Caregiving: A Perspective From Both Sides of The Coin

(As featured on Cancer Knowledge Network)

Most of you know me as the writer in our family. Little do you know, my husband is talented in written form as well. Recently, Matt and I were asked to co-write an article for a Canadian publication. We were invited to share our perspectives on caregiving and the vital role it plays in one’s journey through cancer. I was, and still am amazed at my husband’s words. They have touched my soul, just as I know they will yours…

Stephanie (Survivor):

A cancer diagnosis never affects just the person afflicted with the disease. Though the doctor found a malignant tumor growing inside of me, she might as well have told my husband that he had one growing inside of him as well.

In June of 2010, I walked down the red-carpeted aisle of an old, spacious, and magnificent cathedral to marry my best friend. From our second date, I knew he was the one I would spend the rest of my life with. We shared laughter, adventure, and innumerable conversations. He stole my heart and has protected it from the moment it entered his grasp. Within weeks of meeting each other, we fell in love and began planning our future – when we would have children, where we would live and raise our family, even the color of paint we would choose for the walls of our dream home. We had life figured out and were valiantly prepared to take on the world together, hand in hand.

One and a half years later our plans were derailed. At the age of 25, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. It was as if the canvas we had sketched our dreams on was wiped clean. The plans we had set forth were redefined and put on hold. We soon entered into the gates of Cancerland and were quickly thrust into an unknown arena. Decisions had to be made, and treatment began immediately.

Through multiple surgeries and treatments, recurrences, and cancer-free scans, my husband has stood firmly by my side in every moment. He has courageously taken the role as my caregiver, and has sacrificially offered to help with my countless needs. Not many realize that I am not the only one in this fight. My husband is firmly planted next to me on the front lines. When I rested in hospital recliners receiving treatments, Matt sat on the uncomfortable chairs beside me without complaint. When I was weak and pitifully sick, he would assure me and rub my back in comfort. When I had moments of depression and couldn’t battle fearful thoughts, he would encourage and pray for me. He shaved his head when I lost my hair so I wouldn’t feel alone. At my weakest, my husband mustered up strength and bravery to help me through. All without second guessing or complaint.

I’ve often shared that the role of a caregiver is equally as important as the patient fighting cancer. Though I was the one ingesting toxins to battle the disease within me, my husband fought just as hard behind the scenes, making sure I could withstand the fight. He has sacrificed so much just to care for me. His patience, concern, encouragement, compassion, and love have altered the way I fight cancer. I am stronger with him beside me.

He is my guardian. We fight this disease together.

Matt (Caregiver):

Have you ever seen the movie The Bodyguard?

Kevin Costner is a total badass in that movie. I watched it a lot when I was a kid. He ran around, protecting Whitney Houston from stalkers and bullets. He was a hero. I wanted to be a hero.

I can’t say I was fully prepared when my life started to parallel that story. My wife was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer over two years ago. When we got the news, I knew that the roller coaster ride would soon commence. Life would never be what it once was, nor would it play out in the way I had intended. Instead of buying a house, a car, and having kids, we would be shuttling off to surgeries, chemotherapy treatments and radiation appointments, all the while keeping track of our mileage in hopes of writing the expense off on our taxes.

Let’s face it; in reality, I’m not fending off over-obsessed fans or valiantly diving in front of bullets (thank the Lord). My role is more concealed. Instead of being front and center, I’m like the Kevin Costner waiting in the wings, keeping an ever-watchful eye on everything that’s going on. And unlike Kevin Costner, there’s not a whole lot I could do except be there. I can’t make the disease go away. I can pray, and I can be there whenever my wife needs me. When my wife was sick in the middle of the night, I was awake with her. When she was too weak to get out of bed on her own strength, I helped her up. When all she could or wanted to do was lay on the couch, that’s all I did, too. I instantly became a professional chauffeur, personal assistant, and expert dog taker-outer. If I wasn’t at home or at the hospital, I was at the pharmacy, standing off to the side while the staff gathered up the hundreds of dollars worth of home injections and pills that I didn’t have the capacity to afford. As a caregiver, you do whatever it takes.

In those times, I’d often think back to the day I married Stephanie. “For richer or poorer… In sickness and in health.”

So this is what that meant. This is what I meant.

Being a caregiver is not a glamorous gig. As a caregiver, you hold down the fort. Your partner is down, and it’s all on you now: the house, the kids (or, in our case, the dogs), the money, the bills, making sure your family is fed, that they have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs… and the whole “giving care” part. That’s your job now. Your job is no longer just your job. You will lose sleep. You will not be able to do some of the things you used to enjoy. You will sacrifice your own health to ensure the health of your loved one. And you will need never-ending amounts of grace and forgiveness.

You will do all of this, and you will likely not be recognized for any of it. You will feel left out. You’re in the wings, remember? When things go bad, prayers and support are 99.9% directed at your loved one. When things go well, congratulations and well-wishes will also be 99.9% directed at your loved one.

You’re the unsung hero, the bodyguard. Stay out of the way and save the day.

Often times, my wife gets told that she is someone’s hero. Nearly every day, she hears that from someone. People lavish her with praise, saying she inspires them. They want to make sure that Stephanie knows how much she means to them.

For me, my wife is the one telling me that I’m her hero. When she is everyone else’s hero, I’m hers. She sees what I do, the sacrifices I’ve made to make her as comfortable as possible as she fights the hardest fight of her life. She appreciates me. That’s awesome. That being said, if you know someone who is a caregiver, tell them how you feel about them. Do you appreciate them? Tell them. It’s amazing what encouragement can do. For every person you know who is faced with cancer or some other life-altering affliction, there is also someone in their corner who, if you’re honest with yourself, you likely have never noticed.

No one is meant to fight alone.

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

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5 Comments on Caregiving: A Perspective From Both Sides of The Coin

  1. Kelly Crews
    June 2, 2014 at 10:32 AM (5 months ago)

    I am so proud and grateful for you both to have each other in your lives. I know personally that Stephanie has an amazing family of support, and Matt, it is clear that you are first in that line, ready to fight the aggressor at any turn. I’m so grateful she’s got you. And I think you’re a lucky young man to have found sweet Stephanie as well. I know that God’s got this. More importantly, I know that YOU know that God’s got this.

    But when you reach the hard days, when the tears flow, when the ground seems to shake, be sure you hold on to each other. THAT is when you are strongest!

    Thanks for sharing this story! Both sides are important to tell and share!

    kelly

  2. Donna Carlson
    June 2, 2014 at 11:28 AM (5 months ago)

    Matt, you are my hero too! God gave you to Stephanie – and her to you and you both are an inspiration to everyone who knows you. Thank you both for sharing – I am praying for you both and love you both!

  3. Jen
    June 2, 2014 at 4:44 PM (5 months ago)

    Matt and Stephanie,
    God knew EXACTLY what each of you would need from the other person when he brought you together. Hang tight. There is so much pulling people apart who are not going through what you have been going through. Never give up on each other. Let GRACE ABOUND!!! Thanks for sharing this last post from your two perspectives!

  4. Jim Black
    June 3, 2014 at 11:58 PM (5 months ago)

    Beautiful story. This reminds me of the care and love that my son, James, showed as his wife battled cancer. Matt you have eloquently described what a husband and best friend does, when his loved one is fighting a battle and supporting her in every step. Both of you continually inspire me as I follow your journey and your love for each other.

  5. Wes Anderson
    June 10, 2014 at 1:22 PM (5 months ago)

    Hey Guys,
    It’s been a blessing reading this blog and to see the strength of Christ on display as you both have surrendered to Him.
    I don’t know if you guys know this, but my mom is a 5 time cancer survivor. She was first diagnosed in 1985 with Pancreatic cancer. I was only 5 and my brother 6.
    She battled through surgery, radiation and chemo and went into remission only to have the cancer return a few years later, then had to go through all of it again.
    Later in 1999 they found a small tumor of skin cancer on her scalp. Fortunately they were able to remove it in one simple surgery, but shortly after that she was diagnosed with Breast cancer and had to go through all the treatments again. Then lastly, we pray, in 2009 she was diagnosed with Colon cancer to once again battle through all the treatments and surgeries. She has been cancer free since! :)
    Her story, our story, is one of hope and victory, but can also sound scary to those that fear cancers possible return.
    She did see an geneticist and found out that she has Lynch Syndrome (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lynch-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20025651)
    Which scares me for two reasons; her getting cancer again and that it is hereditary and I could have it or possibly pass it on to my children. I’ve debated on whether to be tested or not.
    Anyway, all this said… This post made me think about my dad and how he was the caregiver for my mom and how hard it must have been for him as he had to work, take care of her and my brother and I at the ages of 5 & 6. My brother and I often had to get ourselves ready and off to school on our own and we would drive to Denver nearly every weekend from Craig to visit her in the hospital.
    My mom and dad are my heros and not very many people know our story.
    I hope by sharing this that you will be encouraged and not discouraged. There is hope even if cancer comes back again and again. I hold firmly to Lord and how His hand has worked in our lives through it all. I believe He has honored our prayers, even though the cancer has come back so many times. Keep your faith, hold fast to Him and He will get you through.
    You guys are amazing and a testament for Jesus!