This entry was written by Tim Miller, who took on the ambitious role of a caregiver when his wife was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer four years ago.
My wife, Kimberly Miller, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer four years ago. Just one day after the new year she lost her battle on Jan. 2, 2011. It would be almost impossible for me to describe my whole experience as a caregiver, so I thought I would share some of the most important things I learned during my wife’s illness. Being a caregiver is the greatest gift you can give someone.
Doctors’ appointments were probably the most crucial times when Kim’s level of anxiety would increase. She dreaded the appointments and consequently, it took so much out of her just to get her there. I remember how extreme her pain was. Because of her physical discomfort, getting ready, which seemed like a simple task to me, was more like a tedious chore to her. She was very slow-moving despite my attempts to keep a schedule. It would frustrate me because if we showed up late she would have to wait longer. Rushing her only made things worse. But I learned to be patient.
Understanding what she was going through was almost impossible. Sometimes she’d just “snap” at me, not because she was angry at me, but because of the disease and everything it put her through. The cancer had changed her.
Physical touch is so important. When you’re a caregiver you are constantly running errands and taking care of the patient. It was just as important to me, though, to take time out to lie beside my wife. It was my way of showing her that I still love her. A simple touch, rub on the back, or interlocking fingers as we hold hands was enough to make our love present. This was our definition of intimacy.
I have to admit that being the sole caregiver was very stressful. But now, when I look back, my biggest mistake was allowing myself get burnt out. I’d advise any caregiver to ask someone to come over one day a week. It’s an ideal way to alleviate the pressures that are associated with getting so caught up in only taking care of your loved one. When I crashed, I crashed hard.
As the caregiver, you need some type of out. I couldn’t be my best to my wife if I didn’t take a break. The “break” is what stopped me from “breaking down.” Sometimes the pressure was very great. I found myself crying but crying is what comforted me. It was ok to cry, I thought. My wife, her illness, and not being able to heal her was so much for me. That, in itself, made me lose it at times. But when you acknowledge that your loved one is depending more on you than their doctors, you have no choice but to get it together.
Caregivers can also give sufficient support from a distance. Do you offer caregiver assistance to your loved one from miles away? If you missed Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the Cancer Support Community Caregiver’s Teleconference: Cancer Caregiving: Support From a Distance be sure to access the program by downloading the content that was presented during the teleconference.