When my mom received a late stage pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I knew next to nothing about caretaking for a loved one with a terminal disease, the specific needs of a cancer patient, or how to mentally prepare myself for the next few horrible years. Because I didn’t know to plan properly (is it ever possible to plan properly?), I took excellent care of my mother but had a pretty big nervous breakdown the year after she died because I hadn’t cared for myself during the year I was trying hard to keep her alive. Here are a few things I wish I knew at the time. 1) You’ll never make the right decisions. I tortured myself staying up all night too many nights researching how to cure pancreatic cancer, or at the very least stave it off. But it’s a relentless, aggressive cancer with a crushingly high fatality rate and all the chemo, radiation, and alternative health treatments in the world could’t stop it. In retrospect, would I have advocated that my mom treat it as aggressively? She wanted to, but the toll it took on her body and mind robbed her of a good quality of life for more than six months before she died. I would gently suggest to others in my position that you consider admitting that you’re not all powerful, cannot cure diseases with sheer will, and that no decision is the perfect one. Make a decision and don’t feel guilty about it — there is no winning this game. Kindness and love to yourself and your loved one is truly all that matters.
Use your time wisely. Others have mentioned this in these blog posts as well, but because I couldn’t admit to myself (and my mother couldn’t admit to herself) that my mother was dying I missed out on a lot of conversations and moments I would have loved to have with her. What I wish most of all is that I could go back in time and talk honestly and with love to her about — everything. Her hopes and dreams, her life before I knew her, her sordid and fascinating secrets, her wisdom, regrets, most deeply held beliefs. What I was truly like as a kid. All that stuff. I would have focused much less on trying to get her to take turmeric supplements and much more on just sitting with her quietly, listening and being.
Buy. Or. Make. Your. Loved. One. Treats. Maybe they aren’t dying. I hope they aren’t dying! But whether they are or aren’t, splurging a little can make a big difference. If they’re in the hospital and hate the food, sneak in their favorites as often as you can as long as they are allowed to have them. Eating joyfully during a rough time can make a real difference to one’s overall wellness. They will look back on their illness as a horrible time but one that was punctuated with sweetnesses from their community. Make homemade cards, write them letters, bake them a pie.
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