One thing I think all cancer patients can agree on is that caretakers are the unsung heroes of a cancer diagnosis. You may be a spouse, family, or friends, but you all have something in common. Selflessness. You put us first and take on all the tasks we may be too sick to do ourselves. You feed us, take care of our kids, attend countless appointments, sleep in uncomfortable hospital chairs, and do your best to be strong when we are weak. Caretakers do these things out of love, and thank you simply is not enough. But we want to try to express how amazing you are.
We could not ask for better champions when it comes to our care. You research the latest treatments, remedies to help with side effects, and you make sure we are getting the best care possible. Patients are not always feeling well enough to truly take in all the information after diagnosis, and we may not be the most verbal about our care needs during treatment. Survivor, Lauren Miller describes her caretaker as a “bulldog of a fighter and advocate for my medical needs when my strength was hindered by chemo and surgeries.” You are our voices when we are weak and need to be heard.
Juggling the needs of our families can be one of the toughest adjustments after diagnosis. We want so badly to continue our normal activities with our children, but sometimes we simply cannot. You take on all the extra duties, plan playdates to give us breaks, carpool, bring meals, and anything else in your power to give our kids a sense of stability. Stacy Hurt says her husband took on so much including, “feeding, diapering, toileting, lifting, comforting, medicating, and getting up several times every night with my special needs son in addition to taking care of my typical son while I laid there on the couch too sick to move.” You keep our households running in addition to your regular responsibilities just to make our lives easier.
One of the greatest gifts you give us is a sense of normalcy. It may be cliché but the simple things truly make our lives better. Riley Castro appreciates, “Hanging out on the couch and doing nothing. Even if I’m not interacting, having company means so much. I’m proud of them for just doing what WE have to do to get through this ugly disease.” You also remind us who we are and that we can do this. Denelle Suranski says of her caretakers, “During the most humiliating times in my life they still made me feel human, convined me I was strong enough to beat this, and spent low maintenance quality time together whether it was going to get ice cream or getting out of the house in general. They made me feel alive again.” You still see us and not just a cancer patient.
Caretakers, just like you see us, we see you. We see your struggles even when you try so hard to protect us from them. As survivor, Scott Wilson stated beautifully, “It’s okay to express fear.... We know illness is not about one person.” Remember, you can talk to us. We are going through this together. You do not have to hide your vulnerability from us. We will never understand exactly what it feels like to watch someone you love dealing with cancer, but please let us be there for you like you are always there for us.
So, although thank you will never be enough, please know how much we treasure you all. Even when we are sick, angry, depressed, and difficult to be around, you are the people we know we can depend on. There are no words to even come close to adequately expressing how much you mean to us. We love you and simply could not imagine doing this without you.
Diana Sloan is a 2018 "On the Rise" featured survivor, stage IV colorectal cancer patient, wife, and mother from Lakeway, TX