A husband and wife hugging

Role Reversal: Survivor Becomes the Caregiver

Life can certainly be filled with challenges. I survived non-Hodgkin lymphoma with much support from my caring husband and family. Now it would be my turn to become the caregiver.

My husband now has cancer

My husband developed a cough which we thought was either an infection or possible gastric reflux. After several rounds of antibiotics with no improvement, the gamut of numerous diagnostics began. Chest x-rays, CT scan and a suspicious PET scan followed by a biopsy confirmed adenocarcinoma of his lung. I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with feeling more emotions than when I was first diagnosed.

How could this be happening? We had just moved the month before to our shore house, three hours away from our family. Our familiar physicians and hospital, where I had spent my career as a nurse, were no longer a reasonable distance for treatment. Instead, we were referred to a tertiary center in New York City where I knew no one. Gone was the familiarity and comfort of knowing the nursing and medical staff.

Overwhelmed with emotions and missing the familiar

My feelings ran the gamut from feeling sad, depressed, and out of control while trying to learn about staging and treatment options for this cancer.  Additionally, I am not crazy about driving especially in the congested NYC.

Fortunately, my husband is always optimistic. I made every effort to hide my feelings and be upbeat. Internally, I am upset and trying to make the best decisions for his care.

Tips for coping with this new cancer diagnosis

The following are helping me deal with this serious situation:

  • Prayer and spirituality. Our new parish has a most welcoming priest who has helped me pray and begin to hope for a positive outcome.
  • Organizing patient information. I started an old-fashioned composition notebook to include all pertinent patient information such as test dates, results, labs, names, and addresses of the myriad of physicians we are seeing. In my anxious state, I need to refer to this reference book when asked questions about my husband’s illness.
  • Knowledge. I am researching the disease and learning as much as possible about the staging, treatment options, and prognosis. With this information, I can ask appropriate questions so that my husband can receive optimal care.
  • “One step at a time.” These were the wise words from MY oncologist when I told him about my husband’s illness. Patience is not one of my strengths. He suggested that I not overthink matters which I tend to do. I am trying to take one step at a time but want to be prepared for all possibilities.
  • Allow family to help. I learned the importance of this last week when my husband could not drive home from NYC after receiving general anesthesia for a procedure. His thoughtful sister slept at our house, accompanied us to the hospital, and drove us home. I will eternally be grateful. The pleasant conversation with family also helped distract my husband prior to the procedure and helped us both relax.
  • Rest. Worrying can certainly interfere with sleep. I realize as a cancer survivor, I must take care of myself so that I will be available to care for my husband. Naps and trying not to” overdo” will make a difference. I scaled down our holiday plans and am trying to take each day simply until the day of surgery approaches.
  • Emotional support for husband. As a caregiver, I need to be positive for the patient.  Distractions such a favorite movie or a walk with our dog can help promote relaxation. Try not to overload the patient with information.

I am uncertain as to how the future surgery and treatment will affect my husband’s outcome, but I hope some of these suggestions will help fellow cancer survivors deal with the role reversal and becoming a caregiver.

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