Caretaker: A Wife’s Commitment to Battle Cancer

Two people holding hands in hospitalI have taken on many roles in my life: daughter, sister, friend, cousin, niece, girlfriend, fiancé, college graduate, wife, and new mother. But in April of 2008, I took on a very unexpected role that challenged me more than I ever could have imagined: I became the caretaker for my then 27-year-old husband.

My husband, Nolan, battled testicular cancer before we met. At the age of 18, when he should have been worrying about the prom and high school graduation, he began intense rounds of chemotherapy, underwent several invasive surgeries, and suffered from surgical complications that landed him in the intensive care unit for months at a time. The doctors prepared his parents for the possibility that he might not survive.

But when I met him in 2000, he was recovering and miraculously cancer-free. Soon he was considered “cured,” a word rarely used when referring to cancer patients. We were young, eager for life, and in love. We both worked hard in building our careers, married, and began a family (another miracle doctors couldn’t quite explain).

We kept a distant eye on his previous cancer battles, but to be honest, neither of us ever believed that it would come back. After five years of being cancer-free, he was told he could reduce his check-ups to every two years with a simple tumor marker blood test.

Like many young couples, we thought we were untouchable.

But in 2008, the unthinkable happened and my new job began: caretaker for a cancer patient. Caretaker for a person who was faced with battling a hideous, overwhelming disease. Caretaker for my young husband who I could never imagine living without.

Being the control freak that I am, I jumped into the role minutes after doctors confirmed his cancer had aggressively returned. My immediate response was to cry, call my Dad, and dive right in. I had to do something. The only thing worse than learning that your husband has cancer is learning he has cancer and there is nothing you can do about it, nothing you can do to stop it. I was willing to do anything to help.

I began by ensuring he was admitted into the hospital and in his own room by morning. That his oncologist was there, the necessary follow-up tests and biopsies were performed in a timely manner and his treatment began as soon as possible. I made sure our son was taken care of and arranged a schedule of family and friends to watch him so I could be by Nolan’s side.

Little did I know at that time how much there would be to do. I arranged doctor’s appointments, blood tests, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, chemo infusions and radiation treatments. I researched treatment options, filled prescriptions, researched other specialists, bought food to fill chemo cravings, rented movies, scheduled friends to visit while I worked and arranged mini-vacations. I read about experimental drugs, arranged trips to out-of-state cancer centers, filled out insurance paperwork, planned our first family trip to Disney World, bought new pillows and appealed countless insurance decisions. I tried to be by his side through it all.

But despite the never-ending to-do list that could rival any CEO’s daily agenda, it was never enough. Never enough to do the one thing I wanted to do more than anything: make the cancer disappear. In the end, that is the hardest item on any caregiver’s to-do list: accepting that some things are simply unachievable and learning to let them go.

© Copyright 2010 by Kathleen Rohan. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Elliott

    Elliott

    May 14th, 2010 at 8:16 PM

    The writer has been very strong and courageous here. And I would like to tell her that she has done extraordinarily well in taking care of her husband. It is mentally and physically draining to have a family member in hospital and is no easy task to look after someone with such dedication. I pray to God that her husband is cured of it very soon.

  • Amy H

    Amy H

    May 15th, 2010 at 5:36 AM

    Taking care of another especially at such a young age can be so draining but this author has done it with a courage and vitality that so many of us wish that we possessed but do not. I commend anyone who so selflessly gives of their time and their energy to help someone else battle these traumatic experiences that are so often encountered in life. These are the events that make or break us, and I would hope that we could all learn from this article. Being a caretaker is nothing to sniff at- it takes the time that we never feel that we have to devote yet somehow you find a way when it is given to taking care of the life of someone that you love.

  • Nikki

    Nikki

    May 16th, 2010 at 3:07 AM

    My sister is currently battling lung cancer and for all intents and purposes I have been her primary caretaker. Her husband has basically checked out, can’t deal I guess with the thought of her dying so he has already begun to pull away. Although her children are grown and couldhelp they have pretty much done the same thing. Maybe they are sfraid to see their mom in this state, I don’t know. But talk about mentally and physically draining! YOu are on call pretty much 24/7 and that does start to wear you down. But I would not trade it for anything in the world. I know that there would be no one else, no matter how much money they could be paid, who would give her the comfort and the care that I have with her. She is my best friend and I needed her to know that before we lose her. Our battle is almost over, for her cancer has spread so fast and to everywhere, but I am so thankful everyday that I have been able to do this for her.

  • eugene R.

    eugene R.

    May 17th, 2010 at 2:09 AM

    No physical ailment can be fought without mental toughness and it is the caretakers and immediate family that dictates how much mental toughness a person has. And after reading the above narrative,I am certain that the lady’s husband is full of mental toughness and will surely battle and come out of the ailment.God bless.

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