As National Family Caregivers Month comes to a close, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Community Engagement Manager Lynn Folkman reflects on the care, support and love she received from her family.
I view caregiving as a way to give and receive love. A few months before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was one of my mom’s primary caregivers. When people ask me about caregiving, I always say it was one of the hardest things I have ever done and also one of the most rewarding things I have ever done; and I would not have wanted it any other way. Yet, when the tables turned and I became the patient, it was hard for me to accept being the one who needed care. However, those who love you fiercely jump into the role of caregiving without hesitation.
Last year, I wrote about my “rock star” caregiver, my sister Deb. I hope that everyone has a caregiver such as my sister. I was also fortunate to have the full support of my sister’s family. They were the ones that supported my sister when she needed to rejuvenate from her caregiving role. As they supported her, she in turn could support me. However, they did not stop there, they too supported and loved me fiercely with their own acts of caregiving.
I was single at the time of diagnosis and I was scared. I never regretted my life choices, but with a cancer diagnosis, I really felt alone. I was not sure how I was going to do it all, work full time and keep my home afloat all while going through treatment. I was afraid and so many thoughts crossed my mind, would I be able to have the energy to work, could I afford to keep my house, how could I go through this alone, so many unknowns and so many questions swirled inside of me.
It took an illness to shine a light on what had been my truth: I had a loving family by my side. I was always close with my sister’s family; my brother-in-law Jerry was more like a brother to me, my nephew and niece, Josh and Julie, were like the children I never had. I often took family vacations with them and for a time I lived with them as well. I was there for all the celebrations of the family and the kids growing up, birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs and Sunday dinners. During my diagnosis and treatment I leaned on them all just a little bit more than usual; and in the process of allowing them to care for me brought me even to closer to all of them. They each gave in different ways. No matter their approach to caregiving, it provided me a sense of calm, peace and security. Their gestures of kindness and caregiving, big or small, added to my healing and showed me how deeply loved I was.
It just so happened that my brother in law outfitted the chemotherapy infusion chairs in the healthcare facility where I was being treated. I know, weird huh, what are the chances? To ease my mind and comfort before I began my treatments, he arranged for a private tour for me to walk through the infusion rooms. Just a small gesture and yet seeing where I would be treated, put my mind at ease. Jerry was there every step from beginning to end as my cheerleader. He experienced every high and low along with me.
My nephew Josh would call me after treatments, checking in on me. When I finished my last Herceptin treatment, he called me with enthusiastic congratulations. Just to hear his smiling voice and yes feel his love on the other end of the phone made me power through my treatments. If he was scared, he never let on. Every time that I saw him, he was always at the ready to give me one of the biggest loving hugs around letting me know in his own way that he would be by my side and love me through whatever showed up in my life.
My niece Julie was studying abroad during her last semester before graduation. She sent me a card that I still have to this day, which on the front has a cartoon picture of a fuzzy sheep and says “Ewe Are My Sunshine!” Inside the card reads, “Dear Lynn, Even though skies might be grey right now, you still shine brighter than the sun. Your sunny disposition is your greatest asset (aside from your fashion sense!). I love you, Julie”. That card hung in my house (and still does) in a location that I would walk by everyday. It served to remind me daily that I was still the same person inside and her Aunt, which she very much loved.
Before I started chemotherapy, we all piled into the car, Deb, Jerry and Josh to drive to Penn State to see Julie graduate from college. Although, I was tired from just having completed surgery and slept in the car most of the ride, it was a wonderful day. I was so proud of my niece and so thankful to be part of this loving family. The day and the moment provided me a sense of normalcy away from appointments, tests and doctors. It re-framed my present moment. Sure, I have breast cancer and I was just about to begin chemotherapy, but these joyful moments and their loving gestures served to remind me who I was deep inside that cancer could not take away.
I spent a great deal of time at their home, especially during the exhausting times of treatment. They would make sure that I would eat, and rest, but most importantly they fed and bolstered my spirit emotionally. I would often thank my brother in law for being so kind, he would respond, without a second thought, “of course that is what you do for family”, in his mind there was no other option but to give, support and love. This concept on the surface seems simplistic, and yet somehow can become complicated to implement throughout life. If we all applied this simple rule and to have the attitude and the mindset, of course you give of yourself, of course you give of your time, indeed the world would be a much more loving place.
Thank you Jerry, Josh and Julie for supporting Deb while she cared for me. Thank you for believing in me and loving me fiercely even when my light felt dimmed by life’s circumstances. Your love changed my life and continues to do so. The saying goes that you can choose your friends, but not your family. I have to say in this case, I could not choose any better than those who I have the pleasure and honor to call family.
Read other blog posts in our With Care and Love series.