Forty years ago I lost my Dad to colon cancer.
Before my Dad became ill, my childhood was carefree, filled with joyous family vacations, friends, beloved pets, school projects, music and dance lessons. Inevitably, when my Dad became ill our family life changed forever. He was in and out of the hospital for over three years prior to his passing. I knew that surgeries, tests and procedures were taking place, but was too young to understand. I did understand, however, that our family would never be the same.
My carefree childhood days were gone. I was no longer free of care.
As I reflect on this time, I realize that in many ways I became a caregiver at a very young age. Responsibility, compassion and empathy became my focus. I knew that in small ways I could help my Mom, Dad and family. I had to do something to help ease the suffering our family was experiencing.
Children may not be typical caregivers, but since I didn’t know that at the time, I persevered with my plan to help an out of control situation become a little bit more bearable. I controlled what I could - by helping around the house without being asked, taking care of our beloved dog and cats, practicing my music lessons every day, and by making sure I was a straight ‘A’ student with afterschool activities to keep me occupied.
My goal was to be dependable and responsible. I was taking care of the things I could.
A few short years after my Dad passed my Mom was also diagnosed with colon cancer. My role as a college age caregiver began, and I tried to do all I could to ease her suffering – to comfort and provide love and support during her final days.
Today, sadly, a new generation of children and young adults are trying to sort out the complex feelings as they help their Mom or Dad cope with this devastating disease. Understanding these feelings and the need to help our youngest caregivers has led me to focus on creating educational and support programs for children, adolescents and young adults. It’s vitally important to support our young caregivers, as they support their loved one.
We all understand that cancer affects the entire family, but for me I feel that it also shaped my life into who I am today. My life’s purpose was defined so long ago. This sense of purpose keeps me grounded in my patient and caregiver advocacy work.
Taking care of those we love. I can’t think of a more fulfilling or important purpose in life.