In addition to being a survivor, I was a caregiver to my mother. Her name was Yolanda. The news of my mother’s diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer came as a shock to me. There was a suspicion of cancer when my mom was admitted to the hospital for a hysterectomy. My dad confirmed that an oncologist was called into surgery to remove what was diagnosed as stage 4 ovarian cancer. I remember my dad calling me in my office and telling me: “mommy has cancer”, in a somber tone that my father rarely spoke to me in.
I accompanied my mother to all of her doctor and chemotherapy treatments visits. I was her note taker and companion, her other set of ears and the buffer for the news that she didn’t want to absorb, although I believe she knew more than I thought she did. I visited medical libraries in Manhattan to do research for clinical trials the she might be eligible for in an effort to get her the best care possible. I was determined and on a mission because I didn’t want to lose my best friend. Ultimately, because of the stage of her disease she would get treated the same way either locally or at a hospital in one of the best facilities in Manhattan, so Yolanda opted for comfort and location. Ironically, this was the best choice for her; she ran into old friends at her infusion visits undergoing similar life events and they all provided each other a source of camaraderie.
My mother was a very private person as far as her disease was concerned. She really didn’t want others seeing her at her worst and perhaps that was a mask of sorts, but she was also a trooper. I remember us taking a trip to the beach with my sister. She was completely yellow with jaundice and the end was near (although I don’t think she knew it at the time) and she just wanted to take a trip to the ocean, a place that she loved and rarely got to visit. I even remember her commenting jokingly that she looked like a “bumble bee”, but she chose to live that day and ignore the stares of others wondering what her conditions was.
My mother was a unique individual. When we took her home to hospice care, the first thing she would ask her private nurse who tended to her needs daily, was: “How are you?” “Are you ok today?” I found that to be remarkable about her considering her condition. That is a picture that will be etched in my mind forever.
One thing I learned as a caregiver that I will pass onto others, and perhaps it was pure circumstance because of hormones (I was pregnant with my first child when she passed), but that is that caregivers should never, ever neglect self-care of themselves while caring for their loved ones. It is crucial for caregivers to refill themselves on a consistent basis so that they can continue to give. While I was caring for my mom, I took care of my body and my unborn baby, but I neglected myself at my core and the result of that was a yearlong battle regaining my composure and coming out of a very dark place in my life.
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