In 2011, I met a boy. In 2012, he proposed. In 2013, we said, “I do.” In 2014, we had a baby. And then someone decided we needed a little more madness and in December of 2014, my boy was diagnosed with cancer.
Suddenly, life was about doctor appointments and treatment plans, chemotherapy and radiation, disability paperwork and sick days. Instead of arguing about whose turn it was to change the baby’s diaper, we were arguing about who was more tired. Because while he was struggling with the physical pain and fears of cancers, I was struggling with the responsibilities and stress of a new role: Caregiver.
It hasn’t been easy and I have not, by any means, excelled in my new position, but I love my husband and he needs me, so I’ve learned. It’s been a lot of trial and error and a lot of fights conversations, but over the past year I’ve realized a few things key to surviving in this role.
- Don’t take it personally. They’re (usually) not mad at you. Keep that in mind when they’re blaming you for traffic or they’re angry at you because they don’t want to go to the doctor – they’re just projecting. You didn’t create the traffic or make them sick. It’s not your fault, so if you can, let it go. In doing so, you will offset at least a thousand fights.
- It’s not a competition. I didn’t even realize I was making it one until Casey told me so. At some point, instead of responding with something thoughtful and caring when he told me he was tired or sick, I started to say, “I’m tired too! I was up three times with Zoey last night and I had to get up for work at six this morning, plus I had to run to the grocery store and make dinner.” Eventually, he stopped talking to me about his feelings because he felt like I was just going to make it about myself.
- Find time for yourself. I can’t tell you how difficult this is for me to do because I feel the need to do all of the things myself, like if I’m not constantly cleaning up my house or caring for my family, I’m a failure. But I’ve noticed when I don’t take at least an hour per week to do my own things, I start to lose my mind a little bit. And then I’m super unpleasant. And I whine a lot. And no one wants to spend time with me. Which should mean me time but, let’s be real, it doesn’t.
- Accept help if and when it’s offered. In the beginning, I said we were fine and we didn’t need anything because I thought I had to do all of the things myself. And it was clear I was struggling so people helped anyway. And it is such a humbling, magical experience when you know that someone took the time out of their life to make yours a little bit better. People want to help; they just don’t know how. But if they offer, it’s because they genuinely want to, so accept their help gracefully and everyone wins.
- Don’t make yourself a martyr. Because a) you’re not one and b) you’re still alive.
- Today may be a bad day but cheer up because tomorrow may be worse. There are going to be a lot of bad days because cancer sucks. He’s going to feel sick, you’re going to be tired, you’ll both feel scared and sad and angry. And there’s a good chance tomorrow will be worse, not better, because again, cancer sucks. Accept that it’s not a great day and move on. Ten points if you can find something good to focus on amidst all of the terrible. Twenty if you can laugh.
Thanks to cancer, I’ve had to be a lot of things I wasn’t prepared to be. It’s been challenging and frustrating and stressful. I’m fortunate Casey is the most freakishly optimistic person of all time because it usually helps to keep me balanced but even on my best days I struggle to take my own advice and I spend a lot of time talking myself into feeling things I just don’t.
But on those days, the days I’m so worn out I don’t think I can do it anymore, my parents, sisters, and friends are standing at the ready to care for me and I’m able to recharge and start all over the next day.