My husband and I spent four years in treatment for prostate cancer. We dutifully stuck to the regiment of our “every three weeks” for this treatment and “every three months” for that treatment. Our household calendar took a prime position on our kitchen counter and those appointments, both in our town and in a major cancer treatment centre an hour away, took priority over everything else and everybody else in our lives. Jim’s life depended on this – and so it was.
For the first three years of this priority-changing evolution, he drove and we were comfortable in the waiting room, even though our waits would be long and boring. We would often be there for six to eight hours.
Trying to make the best of it, I would sometimes go to a nearby mall, my cell phone in hand, to look for this and that, all the time feeling like I had a huge hole in my gut and unable to truly enjoy the shopping experience – and I the “extreme” shopper. I would scurry back to Jim’s side and commiserate with him about his boredom or how often he was poked for blood. I retrieved coffee and an old fashioned donut for him – always trying to make the nasties go away and replace them with better memories.
I would often look around the waiting rooms and see people in wheelchairs in various states of deterioration. They looked wrinkled, gaunt, sad, and struggling to breathe. They often had oxygen attached to them and urine bags hanging from the backs of those wheelchairs. My attention was always drawn to the patients not the ones behind the chairs.
How things changed.
It was obvious that I would soon be the one to drive to these appointments when, as we were flying down the freeway at break-neck speed, I noticed that Jim was required to lift his right leg off the gas peddle with his hands to put it on the brakes. Not good.
Things changed again.
We arrived at the hospital one day and he could not walk into the hospital. I was able to procure the last wheelchair inside the entranceway and ferry it to the car – of course we were in a no-parking zone – I think that is all they have at hospitals nowadays. I rushed like crazy to get him comfortable in this contraption I had never used before, afraid of him being embarrassed by his lack of mobility, afraid I would be chided by the security guy for staying in that place, embarrassed that I did not know in advance that Jim was becoming so debilitated. I should have had things ready – I was always the organized one.
It was raining that day and we got soaked even as we rushed, wheelchair-bound through the entranceway.
As treatment days wore on, I began to look behind the wheelchairs. Thus began my awareness of those forgotten companions we call caregivers. I now understood that it is those people walking behind the patient who were also taking a hit from this disease. No, they may not be the ones with the cancer cells, but they were forced to carry on and to bear a very heavy load. They too looked wrinkled, gaunt, sad, and struggling to breathe. It seemed like it was all they could do to go from one station to the next, to taxi the coffee or tea to their loved one, to protect that loved one from drafts, pain and embarrassment of any kind.
These brave people are called caregivers. I was one and always will be. It is built into my cells now to sustain others and work to relieve them of pain and worry. I am now a reluctant expert.
I was……………… the one pushing the wheelchair.