“That’s a toughie, Granddad!” responded my 5-year-old granddaughter thoughtfully when I asked her if a zebra is black with white stripes or white with black stripes. Similarly, it was a toughie when, five years ago, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a hammer blow, and I felt numb and helpless. I have always been pragmatic, but I did not have the slightest idea of what to do. The future was very unclear.
At our first meeting, Pat’s oncologist urged us to attend a Relay For Life event that her department at the hospital was hosting the following weekend to raise funds for cancer research. We did not really understand what it was all about and went out of curiosity. There were probably more than a thousand people there. Many of the women wore violet T-shirts with “SURVIVOR” on the back, and other men and women wore white T-shirts with “CAREGIVER.” It was obvious what the survivors were, but not so obvious what is the role of caregivers.
I was nervous and unsure of how to approach anyone. My fears were unfounded, and I was soon talking with a group of caregivers who told me that their wives were survivors of breast cancer. They opened up to me about their experiences in supporting their wives all those years.
I quickly got an idea of what was in store for me and how important my role would be in supporting Pat to help her through. They told me that support is very important and probably the best treatment. It was clear that 100-percent dedication would be called for. They also advised that there would be times of enormous stress and a need to talk to an understanding and sympathetic ear. It was a good start to my understanding the role I would have to play.
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In the following months, I learned what it was really all about. It was fortunate that my boss, a cancer survivor himself, was understanding and gave me all the time I needed to be with Pat at all doctor appointments, hospital stays and difficult times at home. I discovered three guys in my business circles in different parts of the country in similar circumstances. We created a kind of a club and made regular conference calls, which helped us keep our sanity during the roughest times.
Being nurse, listener, sympathizer, hand holder, hugger and whatever else was necessary at the time was the norm. Household chores and errands became automatic and second nature. It was a demanding full-time job.
It was a toughie, alright, but with lots of “being there” from others, I got to fully understand the significance of the title of “caregiver.” My satisfaction is that Pat survived and now is in full remission.
My granddaughter also figured out her toughie. A while after our conversation about the zebra she came back to me and told me with great conviction that it is a pink animal with black and white stripes.
David Middleton, Miami