By Liz Hill
When my mom was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, I became her main caregiver. For two years, I cared for her through several surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy. I drove her from our home in Louisiana to MD Anderson, and stayed there with her for weeks at a time.
After my mom died, I felt lost. I kept thinking I needed to be taking Mom's temperature, giving her medicine, sitting with her, holding her hand, something. Mom hadn't even been 70 years old. Watching an exceptionally physically and mentally strong woman just slip away was one of the hardest things I have had to endure.
Coping with losing my mom to melanoma
A few days after my mom's memorial service, I went back to work and tried to keep my mind focused, but it was difficult. After work, I returned home, got in the shower and cried.
But this behavior was so unlike me. I was my mother's daughter. I came from a long line of strong women. I thought I needed to just suck it up and get it together. But I couldn't. No matter how many friends I leaned on, no matter how much I prayed, no matter how much I cried, the sadness just wouldn't go away. After about six months, I just couldn't take it anymore.
Recently in Support Category
By Liz Hill
Being a cancer caregiver can be very rewarding, but it isn't easy. As a caregiver, you may experience stress, worry, fear and anger -- among other feelings -- throughout the cancer treatment and beyond. After all, you're busy caring for your loved ones, helping them schedule appointments and making tough decisions. That's why we call caregivers survivors.
We asked a few caregivers to share what they wish they'd have known before their cancer journeys. Here's what they had to say.You can find light within the dark
"I didn't know, but learned, that the cancer journey will be what you make of it. There's always light within the dark, if you're willing to see it.
Through our darkest times, my fiancé and I learned to communicate more effectively, find joy in the smallest things, and appreciate the daily gift of life. Those happy habits have carried over into our married life and strengthened our bond in wonderful ways: we're more selfless, we take time to express our appreciation, we're much more patient, and we forgive each other quickly. The cancer journey has given us that gift."
By Heather Valladarez, social work counselor
"How do I work, take care of my kids, be a good spouse, and find care for my loved one during the day?"
"I am taking care of my dad throughout the day, but I don't have any time for myself. This is becoming stressful."
These are just some of the situations that bring stress to caregivers for cancer patients.
While the caregiving experience can be extremely rewarding, it can also be very challenging. This so-called caregiver fatigue can be difficult both physically and emotionally.
As a cancer caregiver, you may experience any or all of the following emotional or physical stressors:
- feeling overwhelmed
- a lack of energy or feeling tired for long periods of time
- sleeping too much or too little
- weight gain, weight loss or other physical symptoms
- losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
By Erin Buck, Ph.D., and Martha A. Askins, Ph.D.
When parents are faced with changes to their appearance or bodily functioning as a side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, they often struggle with what to tell their children. To protect their kids emotionally, parents sometimes delay or avoid talking to children about cancer treatment.
But that can lead to confusion, isolation and anxiety for children. These conversations can be helpful for both kids and parents.
Here is our advice for talking to your kids about physical changes resulting from cancer.
When should I talk to my children about physical changes?
Timing of the conversation depends on your child's development and maturity. School-aged kids and adolescents benefit from preparing for a parent's surgery weeks to months in advance, but very young children tend to benefit from a shorter preparation time span.
It may not be possible to give your child the optimal amount of time to prepare, so make the most of whatever time you do have. Just remember: advance preparation is key.
By Brittany Cordeiro
As a cancer caregiver, you face unique challenges. The loved one you're nurturing often requires your time, energy and attention, making it hard to focus on your health and wellness.
But an unhealthy caregiver could do more harm than good. Your loved one needs you to stay in fighting shape, so you can provide the care he or she needs. Plus, maintaining a healthy diet and weight helps lower your cancer risks.
Not sure where to start?
"Research shows that making small changes can lead to bigger diet changes over time and better health," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson.
Try these smart food tips to maintain good health.
Dine out less
"Restaurant foods are usually loaded with extra fat, salt and calories," Herndon says. "Eating out or getting takeout even just a few times a week can cause weight gain over time."
By Karen Mae Perdon
My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, just four years after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
This year her breast cancer returned. When I heard the news, I kept thinking, why her? Why is this happening again to the person least deserving of this? I thought we had said goodbye to cancer, but I guess God had other plans.
Yet, despite being a bit shocked, I was surprisingly calm about the news. I knew that my job as a nurse here at MD Anderson was not just to help my patients, but also to help my family.
An inspiring first experience with MD Anderson
I haven't always been a nurse at MD Anderson. In fact, it was my sister's breast cancer diagnosis that led me to MD Anderson, first as a caregiver and now as a nurse.
By Liz Hill
When my mom started her chemo treatments at MD Anderson, I had no idea that she and I would completely switch roles.
All through my teen years, struggling with puberty, high school, softball practice, boyfriends, etc., Mom was there. She taught me to keep fighting, and many times she just told me to "suck it up." So, when her journey with melanoma started, I was there for her, pushing her, and yes, sometimes telling her to "suck it up."
I became Mom's main caregiver, while my dad, her husband of 38 years, tended to my mentally handicapped older brother, David. I traveled with Mom to MD Anderson from our homes in Louisiana, and Dad was always there for her when she returned home from melanoma treatment. He became the main cook and maid at the house, and he loved every minute of doting on the love of his life, while I checked in on them throughout the day.
Being able to return home in between melanoma treatments made all the difference in the world to Mom. It lifted her spirits, allowed family and friends to visit, and gave her the ability to be close to the ones she loved most.
But many of my memories from that period are from the ones Mom and I made during our trips to MD Anderson.Creating memories while caring for Mom
By Erin Pisters and Mary Brolley
Although some cancer survivors distance themselves from cancer after treatment, Art Herzog has taken another route.
Even after three recurrences, Art's positive outlook on life -- and cancer -- is contagious.
Giving back to other prostate cancer patients
The prospect of improving other patients' experiences has always been important to Art.
For 22 years, he's been an active and devoted volunteer with the Anderson Network, a community of almost 2,000 cancer patients and survivors who share their experiences, advice and encouragement with other patients facing similar obstacles.
Matched by age, diagnosis and treatment, prostate cancer patients know they can count on Art to answer their questions or concerns.
The news came while Judy Sager and her husband Jurgen were living in Scotland in 1999. Jurgen was on an overseas assignment as an engineer with an offshore drilling company, when he visited a local hospital to have a suspicious-looking mole examined.
The results soon returned: melanoma. They knew the news was not good, but remained optimistic.
After surgery to remove the affected area, Jurgen transferred positions to be closer to home while being monitored by MD Anderson physicians.
After a year, the disease was thought to be completely removed, and, by all indications, life was improving. So, at age 40, Jurgen decided to run the Houston Marathon.
A week after the marathon, feeling in the best shape of his life, Jurgen noticed a lump near his groin and immediately returned to MD Anderson. The melanoma was back and had spread throughout his lymph nodes.
For the next two years, Judy and Jurgen continued to raise their two sons and were determined to keep daily life as normal as possible. But when Jurgen returned to MD Anderson for routine scans, the doctors found tumors in his liver. He would have to undergo yet another surgery.
By Mindy Loya
Terri Woodard, M.D., says her practice at MD Anderson hasn't yet produced any babies.
But that isn't her only measure of success. It's been less than nine months since Woodard started offering consultations to patients who seek guidance on fertility testing and treatment options for fertility preservation through the Oncofertility Consult Service housed within Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine.
Along with Andrea Bradford, Ph.D., she's offering patients comprehensive resources for sexual health and reproductive function. Both services lead with conversations.
"Just having a conversation during an initial consultation doesn't commit anyone to fertility treatments or counseling sessions," Woodard says. "But it means a patient can make an informed choice about whether to seek further services, and it means a lot to patients to know they have options where their fertility and intimate relationships are concerned."
conversation about cancer and reproductive health
Thanks to advances in cancer treatments, patients are living longer. But those same lifesaving cancer treatments can take a heavy toll.
"We recognize that people don't just go back to being 'normal,' says Bradford, who points to the long-term impacts that chemotherapy, radiation, major abdominal and pelvic surgeries, and hormone therapies can have on patients' sexual function, body image and fertility.
But sexual and reproductive health aren't always high on a patient's list of questions for his or her oncologist.
By Brittany Cordeiro
When caring for a loved one, your health and wellness may often take a backseat. All your time and energy is devoted to nurturing your friend or family member. You grab fast food at the hospital or skip meals entirely to stay by his or her side.
But as a caregiver, it's essential you stay healthy so you can better care for your loved one. In addition, you'll be in better shape to fight off diseases like cancer.
"Research shows that making small changes can lead to bigger diet changes over time and better health," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietician at MD Anderson.
Try these tips to maintain good health with a balanced diet.
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- Overcoming PTSD after losing my mom to melanoma
- What cancer caregivers wish they would have known
- Cancer caregivers: 4 tips to reduce stress
- Parents: Helping kids cope with your physical changes from cancer treatment
- 3 nutrition tips for cancer caregivers
- Oncology nurse: How my family's cancer journey changed me
- Melanoma caregiver: Changing roles with my mom
- Prostate cancer survivor spreads his positive outlook
- My husband's courageous battle with glioblastoma
- Loss inspires melanoma caregiver to help others
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