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When Your Caregiving Days Are Over
By Joyce Aleshire

I am a facilitator of a Cancer Caregiver Support Group in Ohio. We have monthly meetings at two different facilities in two different counties on the second Tuesday and second Wednesday of the month.

In the course of our meetings, several topics surface. One that got my attention most recently was: How a caregiver moves on once their caregiving days are done.

If you are dealing with cancer and your caregiving days are over because of “remission,” this is a celebratory experience—something you hoped and prayed for. You still have your loved one with you, to experience all life’s pleasures with new meaning—appreciating “the second chance at life.”

The other side of the coin—your caregiving days are over due to a passing. What is there to celebrate? The person’s life as you once knew them? Their smile, their voice, their accomplishments, even their disappointments, their victories and their defeats. Their bucket list they never did quite complete, not to mention their families, parents, spouses, children, grandchildren, friends, people in their lives that meant something to them. The what could have been, what ifs, unanswered questions…the list goes on.

There was the daily routine—at one point wondering how you are ever going to get through the next 24 hours? The countless doctor visits, consults, surgeries, chemo, radiation, blood work, x-rays, scans.

Hearing all the medical terminology that was like hearing a foreign language, getting an education in cancer whether you wanted it or not. Understanding the terms, dealing with the terms, explaining the terms to others…Am I getting this right? Did I hear that right?

Your thoughts consumed with your loved one and their well-being, making sure you are doing what is in their best interest. Literally taking one day at a time and on some days, one minute at a time.

Sleep doesn’t come easy, can’t shut your mind off, worry sets in and you find yourself worrying about things you have absolutely no control over. Peace of mind doesn’t exist.

Then one day, you find yourself alone with your thoughts.  You actually have time to think now, but there’s a void. You keep looking at the clock, thinking you’re missing an appointment; you should be in the car going someplace.  Hospital maybe? Doctor’s office? Where do I belong?

Then it hits you…I don’t have to be anywhere! My time is my own! But you don’t know where to go or what to do. There was a point when there were not enough hours in a day.  Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got time to spare and you’re lost.
You have a life, responsibilities, family, maybe even a job, but something is missing.  Not just the someone you loved and cared for and would give anything to have one more day with again. There’s a part of your life that is missing and once again you have to get used to a “new normal.”

You did that “new normal” thing the day cancer entered your life. When a loved one gets a diagnosis of cancer, it affects the whole family and what was normal is no longer! So here you are again, getting used to another “normal” as it will be for this moment.

Everyone handles grief in their own way.  A caregiver is no different. There will be adjustments in their daily life.  They may deal with depression, and some lose their identity and struggle to get it back. There will be a recovery in time.  How long? Whenever. Some, after the first year; others longer.

Faith, family and friends. That is usually what gets us through life and it certainly applies to cancer patients and caregivers.

I am not a professional, not a counselor, therapist or psychologist. My degree is the degree of life. I lived it!

Joyce Aleshire is the facilitator of a Cancer Caregiver Support Group in Ohio.

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