by Gail Hamm, Program Director
There is a certain tension between caregivers and patients- a delicate dance, if you will. Each tries to protect the other. And even if communication was good before the need for caregiving, there may still be times of conflict and hurt feelings. Important things may not be said because it is difficult to talk about the “elephant in the living room.” At other times, it is difficult to understand each other’s perspective.
I have watched this dance play out in many ways. From the perspective of the cancer survivor (a person is a survivor from the day of diagnosis, by the way)… I have heard this person ask, “How do I get my family to accept the new me?” Sometimes the “new me” looks, acts, sounds, ambulates, or eats differently from the “me” before diagnosis and treatment. The “new me” is who he is now, and cannot go back. There is no choice. The survivor is making accommodations to survive and thrive in his new way of living. It takes a lot of time and perseverance to assume the new mantle of self, find meaning from the experience, and survive day-to-day. In addition, he may also be short- tempered and frustrated, and just plain not feeling well.
It can be difficult for the caregiver to accept the “new me,” precisely because there is a “new me.” Out of love, the caregiver offers food and advice. And when the survivor refuses or only eats a little, the caregiver can become extremely frustrated. There may also be the unspoken fear that, “If I don’t feed him, he will die…. it’s my responsibility to nurture my husband and keep him alive.” There is a certain feeling of impotency and helplessness in not being able to protect and save our loved ones.
Caregivers, out of their love for the survivors, are struggling to provide assistance, but what they are offering may be rebuffed…not out of diminished love or caring, but because the survivor wants to do it in his or her own way. To the caregiver it feels like rejection. To the person being cared for, it feels like smothering. In either case, both are trying their best to maintain relationships while dealing with a new lifestyle for which no one asked nor planned.
If you are in this situation, I highly recommend the support group venue as a way to share triumphs and dilemmas. Others have dealt with what you may be experiencing. In coming to a support group and sharing, caregivers and survivors are bringing problems out into the open and finding solutions. Listening to others provides new perspectives and renewed energy for the caregiver/patient dance. Cancer Services offers a variety of support groups. Check out the possibilities at cancer-services.org or call 260-484-9560 or toll free 866-484-9560.
by Heather Currie, 2009 Event Attendee
My mother passed away from colon cancer in January 2009, and my father invited family and friends to share a table at Cancer Services Tribute Dinner 2009 to celebrate her life. The tribute gift was a picture frame, so we searched through our cameras and in our photo albums for a suitable picture of my mother. Going through the pictures wasn’t easy, partly because it had been less than a year since she passed, making it hard to see so many photos of good times, knowing that there would be no new additions to our collections. And partly it was hard because every individual, my mother included, has so many facets that no single photo captures them completely. We found photos of her at weddings, holidays, and dressed up for previous Cancer Services dinners where her own parents had been honored for their battles with cancer. We eventually chose a candid photo of her from our last family vacation in 2007 because it showed her in her element – relaxing in a National Park, enjoying the peacefulness of sunshine, trees and family close at hand. It showed her not just living with cancer, but thriving with it. The picture and frame now sit on the piano where my mother often played. It is joined by bookends and a vase – three handsome tributes, from Cancer Services dinners, to amazing members of our family.
My mother’s battle with cancer is a story of living, surviving, and thriving, as many of them are. Despite all that she lost through cancer, she survived so much of it during her 11-year battle. It was her determination to thrive that has left an indelible mark on us and continues to inspire those who knew her. We survive her, but those who loved her have felt the loss deeply, but it won’t stop us from thriving. At the Cancer Services dinner, we were surrounded by people who knew well what it means to live, survive and thrive. Despite all of the loss, there was not a feeling of sadness to the event. There were a few tears (living, surviving and thriving isn’t easy, after all); the event, however, was a happy occasion, with much to celebrate. Those who have survived their battles with cancer, and those of us who have survived family members lost to cancer, have much to be optimistic about. The dinner gave us an environment in which to not only honor those who fight cancer, but to thrive because of them.
Mark your calendars for Thursday, September 30, and join us at the 6th Annual Tribute Dinner in the Marquis Ballroom at the Fort Wayne Marriott. This year’s event, “Bridging Troubled Waters: A Reflection on Life’s Journey,” offers our community an opportunity to pause, treasure the memories of people who have been touched by cancer, and pay tribute to them, whether a cancer survivor, caregiver, physician, or lost loved one. The evening includes a chance to share memories with family and friends, enjoy a nice dinner and entertainment, and display a photograph of your loved one, along with his or her story.
To learn how you can pay tribute to someone at our event or for tickets, contact Amber Recker at (260) 484-9560, Toll Free @ 866-484-9560, or firstname.lastname@example.org.