Becoming a Caregiver

When your spouse is diagnosed with cancer and requires extensive radiation and chemotherapy, your entire life will change, practically overnight. My wife, Sally, did a lot of the housework, cooking, working and, of course, taking care of me.

Yes, I did help out when I could, but it was her home and wanted to take great care of it. I managed the finances, worked on my own business plus going to various jobs. One of my jobs was to gas up her car. That was a chore she refused to do, and I was ok with that. We made a bet that if she ran out of gas on the highway, I had to let her buy a $1000 worth of clothes. There was one time I almost lost that bet, but in the end, she got the clothes anyway.

In early November of 2016, my wife, Sally, was diagnosed with a type of cancer called vulvar cancer. It’s very rare and occurs on the outer surface of the female genitals. The doctors informed me that it’s one of the most deadly forms of cancer, especially if it gets to advanced stages.

Watching a loved one go through the treatments for cancer is brutal. One of my relatives told me that I was going to be a “caregiver,” and it was going to be very difficult. They weren’t kidding.

From the diagnosis to that fateful day, it was about 7 months. I understand that many people will care for someone else for much longer, and I can honestly say that I have complete admiration for their service, dedication, patience and understanding.

From the beginning of treatments, in addition to working whenever I could, I did all of the household chores. A goodnight sleep became a thing of the past from that point as I had to get up two to four times a night and help her to the restroom. Because the cancer and treatments were focused on the genital area, using the restroom was difficult for her. I had to sit outside the bathroom and talk with my wife to get her to relax. One could only imagine some of the conversations that took place.

Her appetite was almost gone. I had to come up with any kind of simple food dish to get her to eat at all. Her favorite was scrambled eggs, cheese, potatoes and a little bacon mixed in. My sister taught us how to make it, and I got pretty good at preparing it.

To have someone completely dependent on you is a feeling I had never experienced. To be honest, I was willing to do anything to make her comfortable. It’s kind of unusual to say, but sometimes I felt honored to care for the person who made my life so complete.

I was amazed that I didn’t get sick as flu season was in full force. Perhaps I wouldn’t allow my body to shut down because there was no family close by to help out. The stress of the situation brought me close to a nervous breakdown numerous times. But, I somehow managed to hang in there.

I have a new appreciation for caregivers. Their sacrifices are enormous and thank goodness there are people who walk that path, even when they haven’t chosen to do so.

Getting the News is like a Big Earthquake with Lots of Aftershocks

I have found out the hard way that losing a spouse is one of the most stressful events in one’s lifetime. I saw a study that this type of event ranks at the top for stress, but I will never begin to understand divorce, losing a child or other traumatic events. Regardless, the emotional toll on my body has been enormous.

I will never forget that fateful time in October of 2016 when the doctor who examined my wife came out to talk to me in the waiting room. She almost looked pale and said, “we’re going to look at this and take care of it.” At the time, I really didn’t know exactly what she was talking about, but I did have an idea.

On Thursday morning, October 20, 2016. I’m trying to wrap my head around the news that the love of my life, Sally, may be stricken with cancer.

My friend Tom once told me, “you can only be shocked once.” There is a lot of truth to that statement, but the “aftershocks” of that news kept on coming after feeling of what was the biggest earthquake of my life.

I’m tried my best to be strong for my wife while going into my office to cry. I’m tried my absolute best to be positive and not let her see my breakdowns in my office. The last time I cried was when my father died over 15 years ago. Since then, I lost track of how many breakdowns I’ve had.

I knew something was wrong for quite some time, but getting her to the doctor’s office wasn’t easy. I could do was to there for her and tell her it’s going to be fine and “life your life,” which she did. I told her for a long time that you live life to its fullest, because you never know what’s around the corner. You see and read how this type of thing happens to someone else. Well this time, I’m was that someone else.

Not to sound like it’s about me, but I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat. Honestly, I always thought that something like this would happen to me, not the other way around. At the gynecologist office, I had to call my big sister, Susan, and give her the news. It literally took everything I had to not to lose it on the phone outside of the doctor’s office.

In the beginning of all of this, the doctor did say that it does look like cancer, but uncertain how far it has progressed. I remember taking the phone downstairs, away from the possibility of Sally hearing the conversation. All I remember was that he said, “it’s not good.”

The rest of that day when we got the news, was sitting and watching TV as we both dozed in and out of shows we had on our DVR. She was on vacation from work, but some vacation. Without children, we would spend the time off visiting family members or try to see new places. From this experience, I tell my friends to “take that vacation” or “appreciate what you have,” because as my stepfather, Rich, told me, “tomorrow is promised to no one.”

I awakened the following morning as Sally went downstairs. Hard to sleep when it’s “not knowing,” or fearing the absolute worst scenario. In the back of your mind, you know that one day something will come along and turn your world inside and out.

 

Why I’m Writing This

IMG_20160105_164038731_HDRI decided to write this blog about becoming a widower. I married my adorable friend and loving partner, Sally, with the idea we would grow old together. I always thought that if anything were to happen, it would be to me. I was obviously wrong. As I write this down, it’s been close to 9 months since the love of my life left this Earth.

Since that event, I sold my beautiful home in Idaho where my wife loved to live and left the area to be with family in California. It was a large home that overlooked the water. We both worked very hard to get into a place like that and just as difficult to maintain. The home made her happy, so I didn’t mind. But, I was starting to get to itch to leave as the long winters were getting to me, which led to occasional feelings of isolation.

But, I could have never imagined the pain of losing that one I planned to spend the rest of my life with. The feelings of isolation prior to her sickness don’t even compare to those feelings now. In this blog, I will write about this journey that I believe one can never prepare to take.

Receiving and processing the news in late 2016 was life’s absolute “blindside.” My beautiful wife, Sally, had to change her life. Her job had to be suspended and I became a “caregiver.” The hope if at least containing cancer after short and intense treatments was shattered when it had unexpectedly spread.

Since that agonizing day in May of 2017 when she passed, I have done things “out of the box,” including travel, gone to singles groups hoping to get insight from others sharing a similar experience, attended support groups for widows and widowers and even talking to mediums. I fell that if I’m going to tell the story, I should tell the entire sequence. My weight dropped 35 pounds from this experience, but at least some people tell me that I look good.

The purpose of this blog is not to depress or to gain sympathetic responses, but perhaps to use this to somehow lessen the pain and show others that you’re not alone.