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Caregivers Chronicles: Prickled Skin, Prickled Nerves

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After a long and successful career in broadcast journalism in Houston, North Texas and Oklahoma, Judy Overton joined MD Anderson in 2008 as a senior communications specialist. Her husband, Tom, was treated at MD Anderson for renal cancer. He died in April 2007. Judy's occasional posts will cover aspects of the cancer experience from the caregiver's perspective. Read more posts in this series

massage.jpgTom valiantly endured a second round of Interleukin 2 treatments shortly after New Year's Day 2005. After the second dose, he experienced extreme chills. Once, he threw up a smoothie a friend had brought him.

That day, I took a break and returned to find him in a dreamy state after a dose of Demerol. When I said, "You don't seem to be taking this as well this time," Tom snapped back, "Don't talk like that."

Care for the caregiver

Whether due to the pain or the painkillers, sharp comments like that sometimes threw me off balance.

And it's at such moments that I encourage caregivers to schedule some time for themselves.

Recently, while walking through MD Anderson's inpatient unit, I struck up a conversation with a woman from Louisiana. She said her husband was a patient, so I asked if she was aware of classes for caregivers and patients through the Integrative Medicine Center.

"Oh, I could never leave my husband's side for very long," she said. "I'm stopping by the cafeteria to get something to eat. I'm going right back up to the room."

If you're a caregiver and have the same attitude as this woman, please consider changing it.

As a caregiver, I didn't educate myself well enough about MD Anderson's wealth of resources. I, too, wanted to maximize the time I had with Tom.

Now, four years later, my goal is to educate you about available programs. Check them out online, or look for one of the FYI newsletters, conveniently located near elevator banks.

A need to be kneaded
Once Tom passed, I controlled my emotions, for the most part, during services and visits by family and friends. But as time rolled on, those closest to me paid the price for my self-neglect.

Perhaps the erratic emotions would've emerged anyway, given the loss. But I wonder if some of the upheaval I caused could've been prevented if I had taken time for me during his illness and afterwards.

A friend purchased a massage for me shortly after Tom died. I finally took advantage of the gift six months later. It wasn't until then that I realized how much I had buried my emotions.

I cried continually during the massage, and was so embarrassed that I felt the need to explain myself. The wise woman totally understood my situation, asked how long it had been, and upon my response, said the timing of my tears was perfectly normal.

Why do we feel compelled to help others, but not ourselves? 

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