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How I put on a brave face as a caregiver

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caregiver putting on a brave face.JPGBy Gasper Mir

Gasper Mir met his wife, Marisa, more than two decades ago at The University of Texas, Austin. Two  years after they married, she  was diagnosed with colon cancer. With Gasper by her side, Marisa has been cancer free for nine years. Gasper hopes his story will encourage and inspire fellow caregivers.

This post is part of our Caregiver Week series, November 12-16.

Being a caregiver for a loved one is the most difficult, emotionally draining, frustrating, but enriching, experience.

For me, there was never a choice. My wife was diagnosed with cancer and so I became her caregiver. It was what she needed and I knew that to get through it, I would have to swallow my fears and anxieties about what was to come. I had to be as strong as could be for her.

Tough to remain positive

In those first few months after her diagnosis, it was tough to remain positive as her body went through the painful rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. It was heart wrenching to watch her face the prospect of losing her battle, and to know that I could not assure her of a happy ending.

So I did what I had to do. I was by her side as she went through her treatments and doctors visits, remaining positive and supportive as we made life changing decisions, sometimes in the blink of an eye, hoping they were the right ones.

I was constantly amazed at my wife's strength as she progressed through every treatment and every surgery, with a dogged determination and resilience. She did everything in her power to win her battle against cancer. I think it was her determination that gave me the strength to remain positive and, seemingly, together.

But often what is lost in the discussion of cancer and the cancer patient is the effect of the disease on the caregiver.

Watching your loved one go through the most horrifying and painful experience, while not being able to do anything to make the pain go away, is devastating.

It was one of the most difficult periods of my life. Standing by my wife, holding her hand, and trying to be strong, supportive and positive, as she writhed in pain from the numerous attempts to stick a needle into her already ravaged veins, was hard for me to do.

Can't promise it will get better
It was hard because I couldn't promise Marisa that it was, indeed, going to get better. Before the diagnosis, when she got sick I could always be confident that she would get better, that the fever would pass or the upset stomach would feel fine in a couple of hours. But with the chemo, radiation and recovery from the surgeries that she went through, no matter how positive I tried to be, I could never truly say, "things will get better soon," and be entirely sure they would.

The uncertainty was terrifying. And what scared me more was that my wife would sense my uncertainty and become more worried. So, I buried that fear as much as I could and tried to show her, and those around us, that I was a rock and that I knew without a doubt that she would beat her cancer.

After nine years, the threat and fear of recurrence, which is not gone for good, has diminished. I still feel that pang of fear very time I hear a sneeze, a sigh of pain from a headache, or even an unusual sniffle.

I know I can't protect my wife from something that comes from the inside, but I can enjoy every moment we have together and be there to hold her hand, ready to reassure her that everything will be fine.

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