Caregiver Chronicles: The Art of Gratefulness

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Caregivers17.jpgAfter 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

I haven't been myself lately.

I haven't felt like doing much beyond getting up and going to work.

Four-and-a-half years have passed since Tom died. His 58th birthday would have been Nov. 2.

Sometimes I can't believe he's gone. I don't think I'm depressed, but maybe I am. It's all catching up with me.

I've held the fort for so long, and now it feels like my psychological and emotional walls are caving in.

A change of heart
But then I had greeter duty in the Clark Clinic lobby in our Main Building, near The Aquarium. It's the gateway for many first-time patients to MD Anderson. As a volunteer greeter, I welcome patients, as well as employees, as they enter the lobby.  

It's easy to identify new patients. When they step into the building, they have an "I'm not sure where I'm going," look. On this day, I welcome an entourage that includes a young man, and presumably his father, mother, wife and sister. Their faces tell the story.

And I realize how grateful I am to be healthy, have a great job and the chance to be helpful and not helpless.

Count your blessings
If you've read my blog posts over the past year, you know I'm on a healing journey. In sharing my story, I hope my words will evoke relief that you're not alone.

In fact, your thoughts and feelings are universal among caregivers.

But how can you be grateful when your life is caving in, when the love of your life is perhaps facing the end of theirs?

In the book "The 4:8 Principle: The Secret to a Joy-Filled Life," author Tommy Newberry offers a number of suggestions to live with gratitude.

"Gratitude is the cornerstone of an unstoppable attitude," Newberry says. "It's also an effective antidote to most negative emotions. You can't experience gratitude and hostility at the same time -- you have to make a choice."

The present of the present
Mary Hughes, an advanced practice nurse in the Department of Psychiatry at MD Anderson, describes grieving as riding a roller coaster or a wave.

"You think you're doing great, then a wave knocks you down to your knees."

Hughes says grief is natural when experiencing loss.  

"It's not depression, but a person can experience both at the same time. You're sad because you don't know if your loved one will get well, they've lost their hair, neither of you has any energy. The goal is to stay focused on the present, the gift of right now," she suggests.

Avoid robbing yourself of the present, Hughes says. Worriers don't live in the present. They can't live for now, and they're fearful of tomorrow.

"As difficult as it may be, be thankful there's a plan in place for treatment, that you have a journey."

If you don't have a support system in place, Hughes says there's a wealth of experts to offer you support. At MD Anderson, contact Integrative Medicine, Social Work or Chaplaincy.

And no matter where your loved one is being (or was) treated, Anderson Network can match you with another caregiver who's been through a similar experience.

Somehow, some way, you'll get through this. And no matter the outcome, you'll be grateful for the gift of time.

1 Comment

What a brilliant post, Judy. I would add that in addition to what is available at MD Anderson, oncology units in most major centers can be sources of information, support and connection. There are support groups out there and if you can't get out to support meetings, there are even online support groups. Nobody needs to feel alone.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Judy--hard-earned but so valuable

Linda Watson

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