Category Archives: Health & Wellness

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Caregiver Syndrome, Part II

December 18 of 2014, we got the official diagnosis of my husband’s Stage IV cancer…not what I wanted for Christmas. In the past 11 months, he has had 118 doctor appointments. He is cancer free at this moment. Just three weeks after he completed 35 radiation treatments and 7 rounds of chemo, he suffered an abdominal aneurysm–and survived. The majority of people who have an aneurysm die. He was fortunate to be airlifted to the hospital, and the vascular surgeon was standing on the landing pad when he got there. He has had the best of care. Although he has lost 40 pounds that he didn’t need to lose, has a bad case of chemo brain fog, and says he has about 65% of the energy he used to have, he is just lucky to be here, and I’m lucky to still have him.

This has been one of the most emotional times of my life. Fear, shock, anger, denial, worry, and every other negative emotion has been my companion for the past year. There have been a lot of highlights, mainly from the outpouring of love, concern, and support we have had from friends and family and even total strangers. I often think of our lives in terms of B.C.–Before Cancer.

I didn’t know there was any such thing as Caregiver Syndrome before I became a caregiver. Even though he is well at this time, I’ve still got the syndrome. I still worry. I cringe when I go to the mailbox because I know I’m going to find another medical bill that I don’t know how we’re going to pay. I’ve spent the past year fighting battle after battle with our insurance company, filing appeals, and begging them not to deny payment for services and to extend continuity of care after they dropped the Carolinas Health Care System from their network. 6 of the 8 doctors that have been involved in Champ’s care were members of that system. It has been a nightmare.

I’m a control freak, and I hate it when something is beyond my control. His health is beyond my control. Our finances, at this moment, are beyond my control. We will go to our grave thousands of dollars in debt from this experience. I have felt like I’m personally out of control. I’ve never been a crying person, and in the past year have probably shed more tears than I’ve shed all together in my entire life.

Some good things have happened, in spite of it all. We made the decision to downsize at THERA-SSAGE–not close the business–and Champ has been able to start doing massage appointments again. He had to retire from carpentry after 45 years, as the physical labor of it is just too much for him. He still sleeps a lot. Some days he goes from the bed to the sofa and back again, and that’s it. That’s okay. Sleep is restorative. I accepted a new job as the Massage Division Director of Soothing Touch, an international family-owned company that manufactures massage and skin care products. They’re based in New Mexico, but I get to work at home, and I am traveling a lot for them. I love the products, which I had been using for about 7 years before joining the company, and I love the people I work with. I curtailed a lot of my teaching activities this year, but I managed to do three book revisions while Champ was sick…many times I took my laptop to the hospital and worked on them while he was receiving his treatment. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I hired an office manager to run our clinic so I could bow out and focus my attention on the new job. I have been teaching professional ethics for many years, and I was inspired to create a new class on The Ethics of Working with People with Cancer.

I have a new appreciation for cancer patients, and for their caregivers. One of my friends who beat breast cancer a long time ago said to me that she figured out while she was sick that she would much rather be the sick person than the family members who were caring for her.

When you’re a caregiver, you put everything else on the back burner. I know I did. I stopped getting regular massage. I got depressed. I suffered from anxiety. I alternated between stress eating and not eating at all because I was stressed. I either wanted to cover up my head and sleep, or laid awake worrying. It’s been a journey, and it’s not over. Champ will receive PET scans every three months for the next five years. He will have the camera put down his throat every six weeks for another six months. He goes to have his chemo port flushed out every month. He sees the vascular surgeon for regular ultrasounds. He has appointments just to get weighed so they can make sure he is at least maintaining and not losing any more weight. It’s still a little shocking to me to see his changed appearance, but I’ll take him skinny rather than not having him at all.

Every time I hear of another person who has been diagnosed with cancer, I just cringe…for them, and for their loved ones. All you can do is the best you can do. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hoping he stays well and continues to get his energy back, and that the brain fog lifts. I still have moments of fear, depression, anger, and the whole gamut, but those are outweighed by the gratitude of still having my husband. If you’re going through this, or have already been through it, you know what I mean. May peace be with you.

To every thing there is a season…

…and a time to every purpose under the heaven: (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

As Autumn approaches (and not a minute too soon for me, personally, North Carolina on those humid 100-degree days is not my favorite thing), I am reflecting back on all that has happened since this time last year. It will be a year ago in September that I got very sick with double pneumonia (just a year after my first bout with it), a urinary tract infection that went systemic into my bloodstream, and a diseased gall bladder. Last November, just as I was recovering from that, my soulmate and husband was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Let’s just say it was the winter of my discontent, and my distress, and my depression, and that’s putting it mildly. Spring rolled around and my life was consumed with doctor visits, constant battles with the insurance company, physically taking care of Champ while trying to keep my business running smoothly. Add that to the mundane chores of everyday living, like keeping the housekeeping and the laundry and the grocery shopping all done and the bills paid. While he was recovering from the cancer and the sheer exhaustion from treatments he underwent, he suffered an abdominal aneurysm. I was overwhelmed emotionally and physically and financially and every other way, suffering from fear and anxiety attacks and paranoid if I got so much as a sniffle, because I just couldn’t be sick while Champ was in the condition he was in. I had to cancel several trips, including my annual trip to Ireland to teach, and let go of a lot of things that just paled in importance.

None of us know the day or the hour that catastrophe might strike, and that some life-altering illness or other tragic event will take place. And we don’t know the why. Some believe that everything happens for a reason; some believe things happen without any rhyme or reason. It’s easiest, and human nature, to think that things happen to other people for a reason, but there’s no reason for it to happen to us. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people all the time. We have lost several good friends to cancer this year. I see people on my FB pages fighting that battle every day. I feel for them, and their caregivers, too.

Some great things have happened this summer. First and foremost, Champ was pronounced cancer-free. He still has to see the oncologist every three months for the next five years, but he’s getting better every day at the present time. He just eased himself back into doing massage for the first time since last November when he was diagnosed, and he had seven appointments this past week. I accepted a new full-time job with Soothing Touch as their Massage Division Director. That necessitated my hiring someone to run THERA-SSAGE, our chiropractic and massage clinic in Rutherfordton NC, something it was hard for my control-freak self to turn over to someone else, but it seems to be going well. I’m loving my new job and the great people that own and work for this company. I’ll be meeting those I haven’t met yet this week when I make my first trip out to the factory in New Mexico.

My new book is finished and will be released in October. I finished another manuscript, this one for the 3rd edition of the Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Examinations, and the publisher accepted the first draft. It will be out at the beginning of the year. We enjoyed our trip up to Indiana for the World Massage Festival, and also visiting with AMTA folks during weekends I was teaching in Greensboro and down on the NC Coast. I’ll be attending the National Convention in Pittsburgh to represent Soothing Touch. I’m participating in a new CE distance learning project with some other great educators that will be rolling out any day. While I was at the World Massage Festival, I got invited to teach a class in Trinidad next year, so I’m looking forward to that. I also got invited to speak at the 2016 Society for Oncology Massage gathering. Even Champ’s cancer had a few silver linings. We have always appreciated each other, but now we appreciate each other even more. We also appreciate all the kindnesses of family and friends and total strangers who supported us along the way, whether in thought or in deed.

I don’t know what the purpose was in all the stuff that happened to us, but I do know the lesson. and that’s just to hold on with everything you have to the time with loved ones you have, because no amount of money will buy any more of it. And now, for the rest of the verse. Peace & Prosperity to you.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.