Just Do It and You Get Through It - My Personal Story

By Lois A. Troutman

 

The title of this article exemplifies a motto I adopted early on in my life as a caregiver.   Caregiver is a word that I never expected would be in my job description when I got married to Kenneth E. Troutman on March 22, 1975.  But, years later it became an all-consuming part of my life.

On December 27, 1990, we discovered that my husband had developed prostate cancer.  Cancer is a word that can send shock-waves through one’s very being.   It can be a stunning diagnosis and one that takes a lot of time to get used to hearing.  It’s even difficult saying the word.  I know it hit me with the force of a tornado and so many questions began to circulate through my mind.  Those questions had no answers in the beginning.  Actually, as time wore on there were only more questions with very few answers. 

I immediately knew that I had to adopt an attitude adjustment and vowed to do everything humanly possible to help my husband through this ordeal.  My feeling was that I had to assume responsibility and somehow get through whatever came our way in order to be able to best take care of Ken. 

The early years actually went very smoothly and our lives were not disrupted very much at all.   But, cancer is like a family member who comes to visit and becomes a permanent guest, a very unwelcome guest at that. 

I actually felt like I was going into this great abyss where there was so much uncertainty and fear.  Yes, the kind of fear that just rocks one to the core.  But, at the same time I was determined to just do it and get through it.

My journey began with a visit with Ken to his oncologist on January 7, 1991.  My emotions were “all over the place”.  It turned out Ken’s cancer had already spread to the bone, so surgery would have been a moot point.  He started out with a monthly hormone shot and regular examinations, so it seemed like we were off the hook at this point, but that was not a harbinger of things to come down the road of our journey.

In September of 1997, I believe we began the start of the end.  Ken became ill with what we thought was a case of the flu, but that certainly was not what it turned out to be.  Finally, on October 21 we sought medical intervention at the hospital.  He was hospitalized for eight days fighting for his life from uremic poisoning.   He did eventually rally from this, but this was only the beginning of more setbacks to follow. 

The hospital at this point became a second home for us.  There were more hospital stays, more medications, more tests.  The day that I feared the worst came and that was to enter the infusion room to begin protocols such as chemotherapy that were supposed to help Ken.  It turns out that when one became ineffective, another type was implemented.   It was, also very apparent to me that all of these treatments were meant to extend Ken’s life, not necessarily to make the quality of his life better because it certainly did not. 

Other setbacks included blood clots in his legs, long use of Prednisone eventually made his legs useless and he eventually had to use a walker.  In time, he lost the use of his legs.  His blood counts often were too low to endure the treatments.   He, also, had to have blood transfusions to boost his immune system. His blood P-time constantly had to be checked for the clotting factor. 

It became necessary to have a medi-port implanted into his chest so it would be easier for the nurses to take his blood for testing and to infuse the intravenous therapies.

Caring for him became a full-time job for me and I put my life on hold to do it.  Yes, the word “caregiver” had now entered my job description.  There were days I struggled just to hold on to my own sanity, let alone trying to be the anchor for Ken that I needed to be.  I kept reminding myself of my motto, though, and kept running the race.  My faith in God certainly helped me to go through all of the rough times that I had to face.   I acquired strength through the prayers of others, and support of family and friends helped tremendously, too.   

Try as I might, I sunk into another period of depression after I had a hysterectomy  in January of 2000.  I battled back from that with sheer will and determination.  I knew Ken was depending on me for the care that he needed and I still managed to do it even though this was a very difficult time for him and for me. 

As the year 2001 began, Ken was having much more pain than usual and he had bladder surgery.  Through the surgery it was determined that the cancer had spread to the bladder.  This surgery did not go well and many complications ensued, including the need to have nephrostomy tubes put into his back for the purpose of voiding his urine.  He eventually, also had to be catheterized. 

Some physical therapy to strengthen his legs was attempted, but that proved futile.  Ken spent the better part of two months in the hospital and on May 8, 2001, we brought him home with hospice care for what would be the last two weeks of his life.   This period of time was so difficult, but I had been witnessing a slow death over a period of about three years, and seeing what I had to see and participate in as far as his care was concerned was almost more than I could bear.  But, again I remembered my motto and continued the race. 

The hospice team assigned to us for those two weeks was like a team of angels sent by God to me.  Their help proved to be invaluable and I could not have coped without them.   My resolve at this time started to weaken and I had to give up and put all of this in God’s hands and accept the help that I needed because we now had to allow Ken to give his life over to God. 

On May 22, 2001, the hospice nurse had instructed me to give him a “morphine cocktail” every hour that day.  I had to give it with an eye-dropper because he had lost his ability to swallow and to take pills.  All during this day his bodily functions were ceasing and the “death rattle” had begun.  The time of his death was now imminent.  Family and friends kept a vigil at his bedside. 

On May 23, 2001, at 4:15 am, my husband lost his valiant struggle from this most devastating illness.  I actually got down by my bed and thanked God for ending his suffering.   Yes, the ordeal that left me physically and emotionally drained was now over.

I think the thing that I was most proud of was that I saw Ken through this illness from beginning to end and did it to the very best of my ability.  I actually learned a new skill and that was coping with all that needed to be done, with taking charge of his care, learning to take care of things at home that Ken always took care of, and developed the will to do it. 

My advice to others would be to stick by your loved one, no matter how hard things will get, because dealing with the illness of cancer can be the hardest thing you will ever face in your lifetime.  This is not an easy process, but in the end you will be a much better person for it.   Ken and I became closer together because of this, too.  We could not be intimate any more, but we found other ways to stay close.   Yes, make ways that you can still enjoy each other, at least in small ways, and interject a sense of humor into your days because it is still possible to enjoy laughter with each other.   One thing we did was pass a teddy bear back and forth and hold onto him.  His name was Binky and Binky helped us cope.  Just develop ways that will be suitable for you in your situation. 

It is also imperative to accept someone’s help to sit with your very ill loved one.  That is another helpful coping mechanism that is vital.  Yes, I was a caregiver, but if I hadn’t at least attempted to try to take care of myself, too, this orderly process that I established would have come crumbling down. 

There are no set rules and regulations to deal with something like this.  Sometimes it takes trial and error to find the combination that will work for you and your spouse and sometimes nothing works.  You just do it and you get through it.  Actually, that motto is what I continue to espouse as I go through life without my husband.

My husband became my hero for the way he fought this disease with dignity and the will to overcome it.  Yes, he lost the fight, but he left me with a legacy that I try to keep going today through my own life here on this earth.  Now it is very important for me to tell those people who mean the most to me that I love them every single day and to help friends whose husbands have recently passed on from equally devastating illnesses. 

In closing, the strength and wisdom that I acquired through my life as a caregiver is seeing me through.  My race was tough, my battle was finally over.  And, yes, I can say I did it and I got through it.  I hope these words that I have shared will give you comfort, peace, and strength.   Yes, you can do it and get through it, too.

 

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