My toughest job with the most responsibility is as my husband’s caregiver.
It’s not what I signed up for. I’m not looking for pity; it’s not something I had experience with. It was not part of my retirement plans, but something I was very motivated to master.
So how do I become the world’s best caregiver? Because after all, my husband deserves nothing less. If I ever needed to excel at something, this is it.
It is by far the most challenging job I have had to do. And, that includes my 30-year professional career, being a wife for 28 years and being the mother of three. So, like everything in my life, I take this job seriously and intentionally seek ways to be my very best. I ask myself: How can I take away the most work, pain, worry, paperwork, etc. from my husband whom I love, and is sick? My goal is to allow him to concentrate on his health and not on insurance claims, setting doctor’s appointments or making travel arrangements (we live in Illinois and travel to Houston for his care). But this has to be a balance, because at the same time, I don’t want him to feel like he can’t do these things for himself. Of course he can; he just doesn’t need to be concerned with them while he focuses on his health journey. Further, I want to be emotionally and physically available to him to vent, to share his feelings and to discuss his physical symptoms and side effects.
So, how do I be the caregiver for him when I am feeling overwhelmed, sad and frustrated? I have chosen to seek my own help. Luckily for me, I found a pamphlet on my first trip to MD Anderson that mentioned the availability of caregiver support groups. At the first meeting, I knew I had discovered a safe place to feel community, a sense of belonging and the safety of being able to openly share my feelings.
Many days I feel sad, so sad, about my husband’s diagnosis and how limited our future will most likely be. I have a difficult time sharing this with him because he feels badly that his cancer diagnosis has caused a change to our future and he is sad about his future as well. So, my venue for discussing this is with a caregiver support group while I am at MD Anderson. My feelings, even those I believe seem selfish, are listened to and validated. It is so powerful for someone to totally understand my point of view and just as powerful to listen to someone else share their story and be in a position to relate and validate their feelings. The support group hour is a time of experiencing relief after I have ‘let some feelings out’ in the midst of days full of appointments, tests and treatments, if that makes any sense.
Additionally, I found that the MD Anderson Patient and Family Advisory Council was looking for new council members. So last summer, I applied for a position and was fortunate enough to be accepted last September. It is an organization whose mission is to improve the patient and family experience at MD Anderson. I am able to provide insight, support, feedback and advice on what my personal experiences have been to help make the environment for patients and their families the best that it can possibly be while they navigate their cancer journey. This has been so rewarding and the fact that this organization exists, shows me, once again, that MD Anderson cares about the ‘whole’ wellness of the patient and its caregivers.
In conclusion, I am so grateful for the hospital’s recognition of the role of the caregiver in their patients’ lives and the fact that they go out of their way to provide us support goes to show what an extraordinary place this is.
By Kim Cunnea, Shorewood, Illinois