No Hill For a Climber, Caretaker Thoughts

It was a week ago yesterday my beautiful wife Loraine underwent her double mastectomy. It has been a week of sleepless nights for a number of reasons such as pain, stress and worry. Later today we will be meeting with Dr. Butler to receive the full pathology reports where we will learn the full extent of the cancer, and it will be determined when she can begin undergoing radiation treatments and possibly chemotherapy too. An appointment will also be made with a different oncologist on the Saint Luke’s team who will be putting together the actual treatment plan. My job takes me out on the road tonight, so I will be writing about the pro’s and con’s of available treatment plans later this week.

I am going to give my best attempt to not get too rambling with this article, but I honestly have not slept more than a couple hours at a time ever since Loraine’s diagnosis, so please bear with me if I do take you through an entire forest of my thoughts just to show you a tree.

Family and friend support.

Loraine and I have received a considerable outpouring of love and support from family and friends since her diagnosis and surgery. There have been daily calls to Loraine from many people, others have delivered food to the house after her surgery in order help us from needing to cook. Our wonderful daughter Jennifer, along with our beautiful granddaughters, have come to the house several times now to help with cooking and cleaning. I have had several people reach out to me as well. There have been people I never would have expected that now contact me regular, letting me know they are there if I need someone to talk to. We love each and every one of these thoughtful individuals.

However, the flip side to all of this love and support is the unexpected silence from the phone when it comes to others.  The silence from some can be quite deafening! Loraine and I do both have a good support network, and I understand that people are busy with life and problems of their own.  I am not looking for long drawn out conversations nor sympathy. But know that sometimes a simple heartfelt message can mean the world to one who is suffering.

I damn sure do not want empty words of promises to be there if we ever need help, only to find the one making promises is conveniently too busy when you need it.

Adjusting to wound care.

Even though a mastectomy is a surgical procedure, the aftercare is still wound care. Loraine has two sets of stitches that are both at least nine inches long with two drain tubes emanating from each incision. Monitoring the incisions is a must in order to identify infection or other problems should there be any. And along with this comes keeping the drains emptied and the contents documented on a log provided by the surgeon.

Loraine’s pain level following the mastectomy has been better than I anticipated it would be. Not saying it does not hurt, but I honestly thought it would be much worse for her. One of the biggest issues for her has been adjusting to sleep with the drain tubes with suction bulbs hanging from her sides. One wrong move in your sleep can have your body painfully tugging at the drains. Should you ever experience this, you need to keep your drains secured to where they cannot be pulled as you roll onto your side during sleep.

Caretakers, stick to your normal routines!

As a caretaker of a loved one it is paramount that you still take care of yourself. You cannot help your loved one if you too become sick in the process.

Now is not the time to let healthy nutritional habits become derailed. Stress eating of unhealthy foods might make you feel good in the moment, but they only serve to damage your health in the long run. If you think it is fine to make an exception because you are tired, hungry and stressed, then those exceptions will become the norm. You could easily find yourself sick and morbidly obese. This helps no one, and especially does not help you.

If you have an established exercise regimen, keep it. If you do not, you might consider beginning one, even if it is only walking.  Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. If you’re not an athlete or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management.  Regular exercise will help  shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.

If you have activities of any type that you normally do, then stick to them as much as humanly possible. It is perfectly fine for you. While it might be selfless to give up all that you enjoy to care for your loved one, it is also selfless to maintain your own life in the process. You have to take a mental break from time to time in order to not burn yourself out. You need the interaction with others, you need to share a good time and laugh with friends.

Stay on top of your medical bills.

I know this is a tough one for those on a tight budget. Hell, the financial burden is a tough one for all. There has been a quarter million dollars billed already with Loraine’s office visits, procedures and surgery. And we are just in the infancy of this battle.

Make payment plans early with your providers that you can live with. It will do no one any good if you are not able to buy groceries or to pay your utility bills if you are only able to pay doctors and hospitals. Doctors and hospitals will work with you, but you have to stick to your agreements too.

If money is extremely tight, then consult with your doctor and hospital about financial assistance that may be available to you. There is a lot of help out there for you, but you have to do the leg work to get it. There are benevolent organizations that donate millions of dollars each and every year to needy people, but you have to reach out for it, they do not seek you out. That would be a monumental task for any organization, you have to have personal initiative and accountability to find help. This is just a simple fact of life.

In caring for your loved one, do not quit loving yourself too.

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