“Take care of yourself.”

I’ve heard this advice more times than I can count and try to follow it. After being diagnosed with stage one endometrial (uterine) cancer and having a hysterectomy, I follow this advice religiously. For about three months I had been feeling odd. Although my symptoms didn’t quite match the ones I read about, I made an appointment with my primary care physician.

Tissue samples confirmed the cancer diagnosis and need for immediate surgery. After surgery I wasn’t supposed to lift anything that weighed more than 10-15 pounds. But I’m my disabled husband’s caregiver and swing his legs from wheelchair to bed several times a day. My daughter came to help with lifting and stayed for a month. Without her help I don’t think I would have recovered as quickly.

As I knew it would, the day came for my daughter to return to her own life. I had to follow the no lifting rule for one more week. Who could help? I checked with my church, but scheduling was a problem, so I turned to my neighbors. Three neighbors offered to come in regularly. What a gift! Illness taught me some important lessons about caregiving.

I need to be less independent.  

Although I’m an independent person, I don’t have to be so independent that I’m stubborn. Help from neighbors gave me chances to know them and we had some wonderful conversations. One neighbor complimented me on my decorating talent. I’ve lived on this street for years and still don’t know all my neighbors. Now I know some of them, wave to them, and stop to chat.

I need to keep listening to my body.

“If you hadn’t done that the outcome could have been different,” my doctor said. Like heart disease, endometrial cancer can be a silent killer. Thankfully, my cancer was stage one and required no additional treatment. However, I need to check with a gynecologist at six-month intervals for three years.

I need to stay current on health services.

Because I’m a health and wellness writer I thought I was up to date on the services available in Rochester, MN. I didn’t know a local senior living community (one my husband and I toured) had opened a rehabilitation treatment center. This is where my husband stayed on the day of my surgery and for several weeks after he was hospitalized for pneumonia and pleurisy.

I need to be better at coping with stress.

Stress comes with the caregiving territory. Today, I tell my husband when I’m feeling stressed and why. Too much stress over an extended time can be harmful to health. I do something for myself every day (often it’s a nap), I have “nothing days” when I slow down and take care of basics only, and hire extra help when necessary.

Finally, I need to keep writing. Some well-meaning friends told me I would have to give up my career to care for my husband. I knew this was poor advice and didn’t follow it. If I gave up writing I would be giving up on me. Continuing to write is one of the best decisions I ever made. Writing keeps me sane and makes me a better caregiver.

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