By Danielle Hicks, Chief Patient Officer, GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer
I became a caregiver when my mom was diagnosed with stage 3B lung cancer in 2003. It was one of most terrifying things I had ever had to face up until that point in my life. She was only in her fifties. I had three small children and I couldn’t fathom her not being a part of their lives. One of the hardest things about this for me was not the chemo or radiation—or even seeing her so sick. It was the fear I had of losing her. The fear of no longer having Sunday dinners or family vacations. The fear that my youngest son, who was only three at the time, would not remember her. The fear that the matriarch of our family might not beat this disease.
The easy part? The easy part was being able to try, in some small way, to give back all of the love and support she had shown me my entire life. Through good times and bad, she was always there for me. I only thought about being there for her, however I could. She was my rock and it was my turn to try and be hers.
For the most part, Mom was an easy patient. She was strong and quite often hid how she was actually feeling with forced laughter and a smile—especially when the grandkids were around. Forever the fighter, forever the warrior. Some days though, were harder than others. Like the day she, my sister, and I shaved her head, or the long days in the infusion rooms watching the chemo drip for hours. The radiation burns and all of the other side effects. The days she simply didn’t want to get out of bed and would beg us to leave her alone. The days when she looked so weak, so fragile, and so scared… those days were hard.
We tried to support our mom in any way we could. We mostly listened to her. Her wants and needs changed throughout the process and we, in turn, changed accordingly. When she didn’t feel like eating (refused actually), we would keep trying different things until finally she would relent and take a few bites. When she didn’t want to get out of bed, we would coax her out with a promise that if she’d just take a few steps, we would leave her be. When she didn’t feel like smiling, we’d bring in one of her grandchildren (or all nine) as a reminder that there was always a reason to smile.
The funny thing about being a caregiver, in whatever way I may have been, is that what she gave me during that time was more meaningful than anything I could have done for her. Without even knowing it, she was the one who gave me the strength I needed to be there for her. Actually, she gave me that strength long before she got cancer. She taught me how to be strong, how not to ever give up, and how to persevere even in the toughest of times. She taught me how to love. In a strange way, we were taking care of each other, and although I wish she never got cancer, it was a beautiful thing.
Bonnie J. Addario, our Co-Founder and Board Chair, is a 16 year lung cancer survivor.
Caregivers, as well as patients, can benefit from our support services. If you have questions about lung cancer or are seeking support, contact our HelpLine at email@example.com or call 1-800-298-2436.