Over a year ago I wrote my very first blog post about having a gratitude attitude during my sister’s chemo treatments. The blog got posted, a few other entries too and then things kind of went radio silent. But a month or so ago, my life started to crave a creative outlet so I dusted it off and re-published the post. My sister (who is a follower of Rethink) sent the blog post to them and they asked me to write an article from the caregiver’s perspective.
But I’m not a caregiver. I wasn’t a caregiver. I told my sister this and she was like “uhh ya you were. We talked on the phone EVERYDAY. You coached me through hard things.”
Although this was true, there is a different truth that I have a hard time sharing.
Five years before my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, my mom was diagnosed, too. You won’t believe me when I tell you this but they were both diagnosed in February, same breast cancer type, same surgeon, same oncologist, same treatment schedule. And if that’s not twilight zone-esque I don’t know what is.
But my role of cheerleader, coach and confidante for my sister evolved from an entirely different place.
When my mom was diagnosed, I broke. I cracked in places I didn’t know existed in my heart, my mind and my body. I was living three hours away and had just started a new job and I used that as a bit of an excuse to keep my distance because I just didn’t think that my broken self was capable of helping someone else heal and become whole.
I took my turn (along with my sister, brother, an army of aunts and close family friends) taking my mom to appointments and treatments. I’ll be honest, it felt surreal and like I was just walking through the motions during that year. I would feel so broken some days that I would lie upstairs on a bed at the family cottage listening to positive affirmations on my iPad over and over and over until I felt strong enough to be in the same room as the rest of my family. I didn’t want to stress my mom out and add to her load, so I knew that I needed to take care of myself before interacting.
I remember the time that I felt the most helpful to my mom. She was post chemo treatment and the pain was bad. She had a shot after the treatment that really gave her some deep bone pain. She was in a place I’d never seen my mom in–next to inconsolable. I didn’t know what to do so I quickly downloaded a meditation by Beleruth Naparstek to help deal with pain. It felt like we were on dial up while waiting for that download. Finally it started and as she focused her attention, I could see the tension in her face and jaw relax and then finally the soothing calm of that meditative voice worked its way down through her body and allowed for some relief.
I know that I did other things (I still can’t remember a lot of that year, it’s all a haze) but I know that during those 10 minutes of focused attention and meditation, that is where I helped my mom the most.
Now fast track to five years later and my sister is going through a similar situation and I gently coaxed her back into a meditation and restorative yoga practice. She used meditation often and she swears that it was a huge coping tool that helped ground her throughout treatment.
It doesn’t seem like much but it has a huge impact. Reconnecting the power of the mind-body relationship, particularly during times of stress and trauma is one of the best things that we, as caregivers can model and implement with our family members. It’s so important to take care of ourselves as we navigate the bumpy road of caregiving others.
For more resources for caregivers, click here.
Lindsay Lesage writes a blog about gratitude (and other things) that was inspired by her sister’s breast cancer journey. She is a Yoga Teacher, Spiritual Counsellor and School Teacher. Read more on her blog.