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Saying goodbye: What I've learned as a cancer patient and caregiver

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Tom Barber lung cancer caregiverBy Tom Barber

I am one of four members of my family that have had lung cancer.

I was a primary caregiver to my oldest sister, who died many years before I received my lung cancer diagnosis.

Unfortunately, my second of two sisters to die of lung cancer said goodbye on June 13, 2013. Goodbye, sis. Love you. I am tired of this stuff.

Secrets of a cancer patient caring for a cancer patient
I have two really vivid and distinct cancer memories. Together, they helped me confront my second sister's lung cancer.

On how to be a cancer caregiver, I recall my father asking me how I wanted my mother to remember me just before I stepped into her ICU room to say goodbye. It was gently instructive and made me gather my courage and put a loving and peaceful look on my face as I approached my dear mother for the last time.

It has given me peace many times that she saw me filled with love for her and positive in my countenance to the end.

My other memory, as a cancer patient, is how difficult and depressing it was for me, when a nurse in another hospital, after learning what I was there for, replied with a sad face and finalistic tone: "I'm sorry."

While it was meant to be lovingly sympathetic, it was personally devastating. It took me several days to get back up from the blow.

Obviously, it has stuck with me ever since then. When some friends and family later did the same thing, with similar effect, I was at least better prepared.

You get to pick the memory and vision for your loved one
Each time I went to see my sister during her last months, I tried hard to keep a cheery face, a face of hope, determination and possible healing. It is what the most precious loved one in my life involved in my care did for me. I would have never reached confidence without her help.

As my two distinct cancer memories have taught me, you get to pick the memory and vision for your loved one. What you project is what your loved one or patient will wear that day or week or month. So, go into your loved one's ICU - whatever or wherever it may be -- prepared and strong.

No matter how bad circumstances might be during treatment, there is always a way to express love, hope, sympathy, admiration for courage, thankfulness for each moment and the possibility of life, if not in this world, then life everlasting.

Tom Barber is a 58-year-old lung cancer survivor. After a lobectomy and a clinical trial, he completed 5K and 10K runs, a half-marathon and two triathlons.

Read more blog posts by Tom Barber

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