In Your Corner: A Cancer Caregiver’s Survival Guide
In 2014, I had just gotten remarried. The future looked so bright.
Rewind several years before that and my life had fallen apart. Everything that I had built up came crashing down when I went through a painful divorce. But through a lot of work and with faith, I slowly put the pieces back together again. I met my new love, and we tied the knot on August 23, 2014. A bright new chapter had just opened.
Six months into this new wedded bliss, my dad called me and told me that he had just been diagnosed with cancer. Stage 4 stomach cancer. I was close to my dad and so the news hit me hard.
Two months after that call from my dad, we found out that my new wife, Rebekah, had stage 4 breast cancer. She was only 27 years old. The cancer had spread to her lungs, liver, kidney, bones, and brain. One oncologist predicted 4-6 months for her to live.
What in the world do you do? What do you say?
How do you stay strong?
The person you care about, that you love, has just been pushed into one of the scariest fights in this life, the fight for life. The fight against cancer is not a friendly exhibition fight where opponents shake hands, and both leave the ring. In this fight, only one fighter leaves the ring alive.
All of my focus, my attention, my energy, my worry was on her. Life became about cancer. We were thrown into a whole new world of fear, worry, anger, and pain. We were thrown into a new world of hospitals, doctors, medications, insurance, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, blood work, pain management, scans, scans, and more scans. We were thrown into a new world of challenges in our marriage: Fear, Anxiety, Anger, feeling Overwhelmed, and feeling SO Alone.
At some point I realized that I no longer viewed myself as just a husband. I began to view myself as both a husband and a caregiver. My job became about trying to stay strong for her, to help hold her stand, to help her fight … to be in her corner.
But what took me longer to realize, what I failed to see for a couple of years, was that I was in the ring too. And if you are a caregiver to someone with cancer, someone you love, or a caregiver to someone with a serious illness, you may just see yourself as outside the ring, in their corner, wishing you could do more. But you need to see that you are in the ring with them.
Caregivers have their own new and unique challenges, stresses, temptations, and a host of chaotic and tumultuous emotions, like feeling alone. You want to be strong for them, but you get hit too. But many caregivers don’t see it like that, after all, you’re not the one facing a life-threatening illness. Who are you to complain about anything? Who are you to ask for anything? Who are you to get upset? How selfish to think of yourself when compared to your loved one.
And that’s what we do as caregivers. We internalize it all; we bury it; we try to play the strong man or the strong woman. But that can only work for so long before you start to break down in certain areas of your own life. Trust me, I’m a pro at trying to play the strong man and then breaking down and resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
And that is why I’ve written my new book, In Your Corner: A Cancer Caregiver’s Survival Guide. It’s raw, it’s real, and at times, gritty.
In my book, I pull back the curtain of my life and let you look into my heart and all the “stuff” that goes on in there as a caregiver. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s gritty at times, it’s vulnerable.
I like to think of this book like your boxing coach for BOTH you and your loved one. Remember, you’re in the ring too. You get hit too. You can’t do it alone. Born from our own experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly—we lay it all out for you.
Rebekah and I have a little sign on our wall at home that says, “Cancer touched my life, and I kicked its ass.” That’s what I want to help you do too. Remember how the doctors gave Rebekah 4-6 months to live? We chose to fight, and that was over four years ago now and she’s doing amazing.
Joel Hughes is a husband and father. He is the author of HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer: How You Can Really Make a Difference and In Your Corner: A Cancer Caregiver’s Survival Guide (available today), co-producer of the movie A Brave Hope, and director of Rebekah’s Hope. He holds degrees in Christian ministry and philosophy. Joel lives in Southern California with Rebekah and his two kids.