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Patient tips 10 things I learned while being my wife’s cancer caregiver during a pandemic

10 things I learned while being my wife’s cancer caregiver during a pandemic

In August 2020, Ronda D. was diagnosed with stage 3b colon cancer. She underwent a bowel resection and eight rounds of chemotherapy. Her husband, Ed, was by her side throughout her diagnosis and treatment, caring for his wife and son, while navigating a pandemic and work as a truck driver. Here, he shares the 10 things he learned.

  1. Be patient. This one may sound obvious, but it can’t be said enough. Be patient with your spouse as she navigates a diagnosis on her (or his) own. Be patient with the therapies and remember the results aren’t overnight. Be patient with the side effects. Be patient with your kids. Be patient with yourself. We had to navigate Ronda’s diagnosis, COVID and parenting our son at the same time. Rhonda D colorectal cancer 3
  2. Have a sense of humor. Cancer isn’t for the weak. It can bring out the worst and best in people. Chemotherapy made my wife sick, so having a sense of humor helped us through the worst days. I’ll be honest, we laughed about the stuff I never thought we would laugh about. There were times where we felt like a comedy team at a doctor’s office. Sometimes you can only take stuff so seriously, and cancer is a heavy thing. Try not to get bogged down with it and let off some steam.
  3. Invest in a lot of cleaning products. I learned quickly to keep on hand a variety of cleaning products, disinfectants and paper towels (during COVID, this was a tough find; I ended up scoring toilet paper and paper towels on a work trip and couldn’t believe my luck). Not only will your loved one be immunocompromised, but some of the medications can make them sick. Have a quick bucket of cleaning products on standby.
  4. Ask for help. Be direct with what you need from the people who offer their support, even if your family isn’t around. Whether it’s a friend, coworker, neighbor or a nurse on your care team, be upfront with what you need. COVID put a monkey wrench in everything for us. I felt like I was on an island with no family around, and we needed support for our son and getting it all done.
  5. Be there for what your spouse needs. People may see me and think I’m this big, burly truck driver, but at the end of the day, I’m Ronda’s husband and I wanted to take care of her. Yes, it’s a balancing act, but be there to support your wife or husband. Some days, this looked like helping Ronda take a shower, other days this looked like making her laugh in tough moments. This may require you giving 95 percent in the relationship if the other person can only give 5 percent that day. Either way, be there fully. Ronda D
  6. Have a fridge of simple meals. Pack your fridge with ready-to-go dinners on the days when you’re exhausted. Fill it with options for everyone in your house depending on dietary needs. For example, I always had microwavable options and sandwich fillings on hand for my son.
  7. Carve out time for yourself. We have a big greenhouse behind our house, and it became a nice escape from reality for Ronda and me. Being able to go out there and relax was tremendously helpful. It was a nice escape from the mayhem. I was still available if someone needed me, but it was time for myself.
  8. Find folks who will ask, “How are you doing?” I put everything on the back-burner when we received Ronda’s diagnosis. Sometimes, this meant even taking care of myself. I was asked, “how are you doing?” during a recent Cancer Fighters meeting, and it caught me by surprise. My answer at the time was, “I’m doing,” because that was the reality, but it was nice to know somebody cares. You have to hang in there, and you have to find people who will ask how you’re doing (or if you know a caregiver or two, simply ask them how they’re doing).
  9. Have a go-to kit after treatment. Whether it’s ginger ale, a clear path to the bathroom, towels/a bag in the car, graham crackers, tea—have it on hand. Ronda was temperature-sensitive after chemotherapy, so anything hot or cold was too much. Everything had to be room temperature. I tried to keep that in mind with all liquids, etc., that were next to her.
  10. Ask for printed or emailed copies of information from your care team. If you’re not a note-taker, it’s OK. If I took a notepad with me to Ronda’s appointments, I would come out with three words scribbled down! That’s not helpful. If this is true for you, too, ask for printouts or emailed copies from your spouse’s care team to keep on hand.
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