Jennifer’s Fresh Chapter: A Caregiver’s Perspective
Cancer is hard.
It is physically painful. Treatments are tortuous – leaving you incredibly tired, endlessly sick and emotionally weak.
Realizing you have cancer is unimaginable and unbearable.
Or at least, I think it is.
The truth is I don’t know.
I don’t know, because I don’t have cancer-but cancer has me.
I am a caregiver.
For the last twelve years I have cared for my beautiful daughter as she has fought brain cancer four times.
I have watched as she has suffered through more than 200 doses of chemotherapy. I have witnessed her struggle to grow from a child to an adult because of the effects radiation had on her tiny body and I’ve held her up, as she has struggled find her balance after surgery.
For twelve years, I have nursed her and loved her and wished with every ounce of my being that I could trade places with her.
As I watch her struggle, I have felt guilty and torn and devastated over the decisions I’ve been forced to make about her care. I second guess myself every single day wondering, “Have I done the right thing?”
I’ve given up my career and distanced myself from friends and family members. The years of trauma have taken a toll. I no longer have any feelings of freedom or ignorance or normalcy and even though cancer hasn’t physically altered me – it has stripped me of my identity.
Cancer consumes me.
Everyday, I fear it and everyday I am exhausted from it.
I spend my days organizing medications and appointments, following up with doctors, fighting and advocating and cleaning up the mess cancer creates. I am the person everyone relies on to take care of ‘it all’ and I am also the person everyone leans on when they feel scared or broken. I have all the hard conversations.
I feel shattered because I can’t fix any of it.
At times I am angry, bitter and resentful for what cancer has taken from me, but I never allow myself to feel these emotions for very long because I also feel ashamed for making cancer ‘about me’ while my child suffers.
Stepping off the plane in India, with thirteen survivors, to ‘heal the emotional scars of cancer’ initially felt very wrong.
I felt displaced. Not only because I was on the other side of the world, but because sharing the impact cancer has had on me very felt selfish.
What I quickly learned, however, was that I did in fact very much belong. I learned that as much as cancer separates us, it also unites us. I learned how to be more compassionate to others and to myself. I learned that we are all more the same than we are different, and even though we all struggle, we also deserve to move forward from the challenges we face.
India in itself was the perfect place to experience A Fresh Chapter. It is a country of contradiction. A country that is both beauty and struggle at the same time; just as cancer is. India felt like a reflection of my life.
India taught me to be open, to give selflessly and to accept what is. It reminded me that we all feel the same basic emotions and to keep an eye out for the beauty, happiness and joy in life – for sometimes it is hidden in spots where no one would ever think to look.
Traveling to India and my A Fresh Chapter experience became a metaphor for my life and my journey as a caregiver. For sometimes, it is the seemingly insignificant moments that outshine the iconic sights.
Applications for our fall 2017 programs will be open from February 8-15, 2017 and our South Africa Odyssey is open to both patients and caregivers. If you know a caregiver who could benefit from A Fresh Chapter, please pass this post along or sign up here to get updates on all of our AFC programs: Join the A Fresh Chapter Odyssey Tribe.