Being a Cancer Patient and a Caregiver

by GregP_WN

All cancer patients will have a variety of descriptions of what it's like to be a cancer patient. There will be a lot of details about how hard treatment is, how bad the side effects are, the pain involved and the sacrifices a patient has to make just to go through treatment. 

Is Being A Caregiver Harder Than Being A Patient

All of these will be heartfelt and true statements, but the patient usually feels like they are in control of their own situation. They are the one going through it all and can muster up the determination to keep driving through it. But, it's different for a caregiver.

Most caregivers will describe their experience in caring for their loved one as rewarding, tough, draining, exhausting and scary. Those caregivers that have also been a patient will many times include "harder than having cancer" as a description. In my case, I know how hard it was for my Wife taking care of me, watching me go from being a picture of health and strong to being extremely sick, weak and at death's door.  Even though I have had three diagnoses and more than my share of being at the rock bottom of health's barrel, I will join with others that say being a caregiver was the harder of the two. 

Tweet: Being a caregiver for a spouse with cancer-Harder than being a patient?

Those who have never experienced both being a patient and a caregiver might say "no way". But those of us that have been there will share their feelings about how it's harder. Here are some of my own experiences with being the caregiver for my Mom and Dad, both of them were Stage IV cancer patients. Mom passed away from lung cancer, and Dad passed away from prostate cancer. Our family took care of both of them 24 hrs. a day with the help of Hospice during their last months of life. 

Caring For Dad

Dad was always a confident man, able to do most anything he wanted. His health was fairly good in his later years despite having lived with prostate cancer for 13 years. He worked his farm and tended to his animals and was able to do his chores most of the time. He hated to ask any of us kids to help him do anything, he hated being looked at as someone not able to take care of himself. 

One of his biggest fears was that his health would decline to the point that he would be dependent on someone else for even the most basic of life's needs like bathing or getting to the restroom. In the last month of his life, sadly, he reached this point. 

Caring for a parent is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. Physically, it's not all that challenging, although you can lose a lot of sleep, but mentally, it takes its toll. 

When I am the patient and I am hurting, I can handle it. When you're the caregiver, you hurt for them, you want the pain to go away, all you can do is give the medication and sit and wait. With every groan, ouch, or shriek of pain, you cringe and search for ways to make it better. But, there is nothing you can do but sit and wait, and hope that the pain will go away. 

While caring for Dad, he was in a Nursing Home, we had the benefit of having the staff of the facility to administer meds, but other than that, we took care of his every need from getting a drink of water, feeding him, keeping him turned so his bed sores wouldn't get any worse, to cleaning him up when he messed up the bed. For 24 hours a day, for the month he was in there, one of us was with him doing all of these for him. 

Me And Dad In Rhino 

We talked when he was coherent, and actually enjoyed the time, but for most of the time, he was asleep except for the regular awakening with pain. He would wake up screaming, then after we gave him some pain medicine, we would talk for just a little, which usually consisted of him saying that "we should be going now, hadn't we"? He was always looking for his shoes and was ready to leave. We would have to explain to him again, that he was very sick and that he couldn't go home until he got better. He never grasped the concept of he was never going home. Then he would go back to sleep, when he woke, the whole cycle would start all over again. We lived that segment of time on 3-hour intervals. We used to say that "every 3 hours is a new day". 

The hardest part of the caregiver process for me was the helpless feeling that there is nothing we could do to make it better. No matter how many drinks of water we got them, or treats we brought from the fridge, they were never going to get better. having the knowledge that they were going to die, right there where they were lying, was a harsh reality. 

Dad's final week of his life was a little less physically demanding since by this point he basically was lying in bed getting hourly doses of pain meds to keep him sedated and comfortable, we were just waiting for what we knew was coming. But it only got harder mentally. It seems cruel or uncaring to say, but when he finally passed away, there was a sense of relief. Now his hurting was over, and hopefully, he was better off. 

Caring for Mom

Mom was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer 2 months after Dad died. She had been coughing and couldn't shake it, we took her to the doctor to find out why and shortly afterward we were told the bad news. Treatment "might" help, but probably not. Mom chose to not have treatment and just live out what she had left. 

She lived 8 months after diagnosis, 2 months longer than was predicted. The time we spent together during those 8 months were oddly some of the best we had. I learned more about her and Dad and some of our distant relatives than I did through the previous years.

We would sit and look at boxes of pictures and talk about who they were, and what was going on in them. I wrote notes on the back of the pictures to keep me from forgetting later. Those pictures mean the world to us now. 

Me And Mom At Bdp

My Wife Donna would cook things that Mom liked to eat and that she was able to eat. Our life revolved around caring for Mom at that time. She loved beef stew, so every time that Donna makes stew now, we instantly see Mom's eyes getting wide and excited  as she was waking up from a nap and would smell it cooking. Today, even though it's been several years since she passed, there are certain foods that instantly give us the flashback of being there in the house caring for Mom, giving her some of her favorite things to eat.

Caring for Mom was much like caring for Dad, only it lasted longer. The emotions were that same, the simple little things we did for her were the same and the reality was the same. We knew what was coming, but there was nothing we could do to prevent it. Only make her as comfortable as possible and make her last days as painless as could be. If you think having cancer is tough, try holding your Mother's hand as she is taking her last breaths and telling her that it's OK to let go and go be with Dad.

So what's the takeaway from caring for a Parent? As hard as it is to do, enjoy the time you have with them, enjoy the fact that you are taking care of the things that they used to take care of for you. Everything from paying their bills, cooking for them, feeding them, and even the unpleasant things that inevitably happen like having to clean them up if they have a restroom accident. 

When you are done with this process, you will be happy and proud that you were able to be there for them to do some of the simplest, smallest things for them, at a time when those things were actually HUGE. Just think about a simple drink of water, if you can't reach the glass and hold it all you can do is lie there being thirsty until someone gives you a sip. I can still see their eyes light up and hear them saying, "boy that was good, thank you". 

Dad was in a Nursing Home for his final days, that had some pretty strict rules about visitors and what we could give him. At this point in his life, we decided that whatever Dad wanted, he would get. He was a man who loved his whiskey and chewing tobacco. We made sure that if he wanted either, he got it. I can still see his face light up when I would ask him if he wanted a shot, or a chew. As we all have heard before, "it's the little things that matter". 

So, is it harder being a caregiver than a patient? My experiences say YES.

Have you had to be the caregiver after being a patient yourself? Please share a moment or two from that. 

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