When the patient becomes a caregiver


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I'm typing this blog from the hospital bed next to Ronnie's in the wee hours of the morning. This time, I'm not the patient. There are no IVs, oxygen or tubes hooked to me. Instead, they are connected to the person who has been my anchor through good and bad. The room is dark with the exception of a line of light peeking through the door. I capitalize on this and watch the steady drip of antibiotics fall through the tubing and slowly into his arm. Just as I have prayed so many times that chemo will shrink my tumors, I am now lifting similar prayers that this powerful drug will cure his infection. I find comfort in the cadence of his breath and occasional snore, then hear a train whistle in the distance, and think of the journey we have taken to get to this spot. Two short weeks ago, we were in the middle of a fantabulous break from chemo and for the first part of summer break enjoyed a relaxed pace. These school-free months for Chloe have also been like "cancer-free" months for me. We have grabbed every second and have celebrated the gift of NOW with as much memorable fun as we could feasibly pack into a day. There have been trips to the water park, fishing at the lake, bike rides, SuperRide drill competition, a Wade Hayes performance, a few Clay Thrash concerts, the zoo, Six Flags and even The Grand Ole Opry. There have been art classes, crafts and bedtime stories; hopscotch and chocolate chip cookies. Walks to the lake let us feed the ducks and watch the sun set, and I find myself believing that this is what normal feels like. We've had a couple of birthdays, another wedding anniversary, time with Katie and Karlie despite their busy adult lives, and are soon going to be walking Chloe into first grade. Life flies by sometimes simply; slowly and deliberately, and at other times with much more velocity and speed. The last few weeks have made up for the easy glide into the beginning of summer with a tidal wave of Murphy's Law. Ronnie punctured his finger. Though it seemed straightforward in the beginning, not all is what it seems. My mom had cataract surgery resulting in high pressures that took time to resolve. Then my dad had a stroke, and my mom had a second cataract surgery. The pace quickened. Then Ronnie's simple puncture didn't respond to the first round of antibiotics. Steroids didn't touch it and a second round of newer, stronger antibiotics didn't work either. Faster we go. Orthopedic surgeon visit. MRI. Surgery is scheduled and fast is now joined by furious as the infection outsmarts the bones in his finger. The infection becomes sneaky. And like waiting for the slow rumble of the train as it passes by the hospital window, we must patiently wait for the antibiotics to work and the infection to leave his body. Traveling from patient to caregiver, I suddenly understand the many challenges, angst, frustrations and fears - as well as the total commitment and love - of those who have cheered and cared for me throughout this 15-year journey. My hand finds Ronnie's. His eyes open slightly and I hug him with all my might. Life is fiercely fragile. Hug often....hug tight! Suzanne Lindley has been living with metastatic colorectal cancer since 1998. She is the founder of YES! Beat Liver Tumors, an organization for individuals living with metastatic liver tumors, and an advocate for Fight Colorectal Cancer.

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