Voices from Caregivers on Family Caregivers Month

As November comes to a close and families come together over the holidays, let’s remember the importance of the caregivers in our lives. November is National Family Caregivers Month and a great opportunity to give out appreciations to the family and friends who helped support us during our diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and today.

We are pleased that there are many caregivers who are active in our Cervivor community. Several have shared their experience on our blog.

Like Lillian, who wrote about how “taking care of my mother has made me grateful and showed me how to go on.

My great aunt took care of my mother. But when my aunt fell asleep, my mother would call for me to help her. I was young, and it was incredibly painful to take care of my mother and see her suffer. I developed a lot of inner strength during that time. I relied on the love I had for my mother to carry me through those nights. I remember one evening when she was in pain, we held hands and listened to the song ‘I Feel Like Going On.’ We listened to that song so many times that eventually we were both singing it. We both felt encouraged. I felt like I had the strength to take care of her, and she felt like she had the strength to live for her family.

Lillian lost her mother to cervical cancer. In her blog, she reflects about the impact that caring for her mother had on her life. “Many times in my life there have been things that are rough. Many times I want to give up. Sometimes I am having a bad day. But I think about that day, when I held my mother’s hand and sang, and I feel like going on.”

Like Tarrence, who so honestly and openly shared the challenges of getting from one day to the next in his blog post, What did I do as a caregiver?  I endured. 

I just kept going and tried to do things that could keep us all moving forward getting through one day at a time.  Ultimately my role as caregiver was to show up every day and do the very best I could.  That’s really all anyone can ask of you, and it’s literally all you can do…Through this experience, I learned a lot about what it means to really be with someone.   I learned that I can show up for someone in ways I’m not sure I knew I could before this.  I learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was and that my Heather is truly the strongest person I know.  I learned a lot about letting people in and being vulnerable.  For me, being a caregiver meant calling upon all I had to get through one day and onto the next.  It meant bringing the best parts of myself to the tasks we were presented with each day.” 

Like Claude, who learned about truly “being a man” when he became a caregiver to his partner Holly.

In my opinion, being a man is standing with the woman you love and help her walk down a linoleum hallway in the middle of the night and holding her hand as she struggles to stay upright.  It’s holding the catheter bag filled with despair and fragile hope. Being a man is running to every CVS, Walgreens and 7-Eleven trying to find a back scratcher for Holly to use on her legs as she cannot bend down to reach them while she lies between fits of incredible pain. Being a man is staying awake all night to rub her back as gently as possible, so that she may rest for even just a moment.”

Caregivers are a core part of our lives and our Cervivor community. Please leave a comment below if you have an awesome caregiver you want to give a shout-out to. If you have a caregiver who is willing to write about his/her experiences and perspective, we’d love feature them in an upcoming blog! We are stronger when we share our stories, and the whole community can benefit. Email us at info@cervivor.org

Is someone in your community currently helping support and care for a loved one undergoing cancer treatment? Make sure they have resources that can help, such as plugging in with the Caregiver Action Network.

From Both Sides of the Bedside

On our wedding day five and a half years ago, my husband Matt and I stood in front of our family and friends and declared “in sickness and in health we would love and honor each other all the days of our lives.” Like most couples we hoped that part of our vows would be tested later on in life, but just two years later we were faced with the fight our lives with when I was diagnosed with Stage 2B cervical cancer.

My husband was immediately thrust into the role of caretaker, taking the lead in processing information from the doctors, maintaining our home, taking me to my treatments, and disseminating all pertinent information about my situation to loved ones. All while continuing to work at his very demanding job. His most important responsibility, though, evolved into being the glue that kept me together every day. He was the one I would turn to in my darkest moments to tell me everything would be okay and that I would come out the other side of this. He rarely wavered or admitted he was scared. He was my flight attendant through the turbulence, the one I looked to when things got rocky to stay calm. He was everything that I could not be.

During my treatments and all the glorious side effects I experienced, Matt was right there. He never shied away from a needle or a trip to the bathroom when I needed assistance. He never made me feel self-conscious as the treatments ravaged my body, turning my insides out. Rather, he would consistently tell me I was beautiful. The night we shaved my head in anticipation of my hair falling out, he declared in the most genuine way, “You look so cute!” I was at my most vulnerable with Matt, and his love was unconditional. I learned to lean on him and be comfortable with the dependency.

Volunteering with the National Kidney Walk just two weeks before Matt’s transplant.

Two years after my last treatment concluded, Matt’s kidneys started showing signs of failure and his doctors recommended a kidney transplant. In a selfless act of love, Matt’s sister agreed to be the donor and we scheduled transplant for November 6. Leading up to the transplant, Matt remained calm and steadfast. He submerged himself in the logistics of it to cope with the anxiety. I, on the other hand, struggled to be the same. I was extremely anxious and instead of being the rock that Matt was for me when I was sick, I was slowly falling apart. It was as if my wounds from being sick were being ripped open again. I was angry that we had to embark on yet another scary journey, and I worried I couldn’t be as good of a caretaker as he was for me. When I shared this with Matt, he assured me he would be fine, I could handle it, and that I was strong.

I realized in that moment, it was no longer about my anxiety and me. I had to take Matt’s lead and be the caretaker he needed to get him through – calm, cool, and collected. I was no longer the patient; our roles were officially reversed. I needed to be his flight attendant and handle it all like he confidently knew I could. From then on, I focused on being a pillar of strength and I let him guide us through this experience in the way that made him feel the most comfortable. I often say that after cancer I feel like I am made of steel. Sometimes that steel melts a bit, but in this moment,  it had to solidify.

Matt’s kidney transplant was a success, but recovery was incredibly intense both physically and emotionally. His post-transplant needs were even more demanding than mine were during treatment, and his spirits were put to the test. Matt needed me to help him with all aspects of his day – his medications, eating and drinking, bathing, sleeping, walking, pain management, etc. Not to mention taking his blood pressure, temperature, and tracking his urine output. However, I can say with complete confidence that because of my cancer we were prepared for all of it. I learned quickly how to anticipate Matt’s needs, to push him when he needed a nudge, to cheer him up when he was down, to listen to his fears, to cry with him, and to love him unconditionally through every single vulnerable moment. I learned from the best, and we quickly found ourselves back into a groove of being caretaker and patient. We relied once again on our friendship and strong foundation.

Leaving the hospital after Matt’s transplant.

Being a cancer survivor has shaped who I am as a caretaker because I understand how being so highly dependent on someone can chip away at your dignity. Even if your caretaker is a loved one, a parent, a sibling, a best friend – when you can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself, you are vulnerable in ways you never thought imaginable. This is something I remind myself of when care taking for my husband and am sensitive to. I constantly put myself in his shoes, and believe I am a better caretaker for it.

Five years after promising “in sickness and in health,” Matt and I are more solid than ever. We’ve been to war together, now twice, and have come out the other side. We’ve both played the role of the patient and the role of the caretaker. Neither is easy, but being a caretaker is by far more difficult. It’s difficult to see your loved one suffer, and I have grown an even deeper appreciation for Matt’s strength during my battle. But when you’ve got a strong foundation and you learn to be what your loved one needs you to be, the rest falls into place.

To all caretakers out there, you got this. You’re stronger than you think, and your loved one appreciates you every minute of every day.

Kate Weissman is a two-year Stage 2B cervical cancer survivor and now a Cervivor Ambassador serving as an advocate for the cervical cancer community. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her husband Matt and fur baby Giada, and is a proud aunt to five nephews and one niece. She is a Public Relations Account Director by day, and an avid food enthusiast by night.