Barbara Perlick

I have never had cancer, but I almost died from it. Okay maybe that is an exaggeration, but if you are caring for someone who has cancer, that is what it can feel like. You spend so much energy trying to keep the real patient focused and positive that you absorb a lot of the bad stuff. At least that was my situation. Please don't misunderstand, I wanted to be her caregiver and would have it no other way (except of course I would wish my sister would have been spared from ever having to deal with the disease). Fortunately this story did have a happy ending.
I wanted to share some lessons that I learned, which will, hopefully, help all of those who are involved in caring for a loved one with cancer. Whether you are the patient or the caregiver, you are affected.
First: Attitude is everything. Every day is a gift for all of us. Why waste it?  I truly thought my sister and I would get thrown out of MD Anderson Cancer Center a few times. People would stare at us while we belly-laughed in the waiting rooms. Laughter is the best medicine.
Second: Don't ever let the patient go to an appointment alone. Before all appointments, I would sit down with my sister and compile a list of questions. I would take copious notes and read back to the doctor what I thought he or she said to make sure my information was correct. It was shocking how more often than not she heard more negative things than were actually said.
Third: Be an advocate. I would be the bad guy when necessary. Even though EVERY person at the hospital was extremely compassionate, I would be the demanding one so she wouldn't have to be. She really appreciated that.
Make a chart or timeline. When my sister first heard of her plan for treatment, it was overwhelming. There was chemo, surgery and radiation. I made a chart so she could see the progress and how the finish line was in sight. We would celebrate each phase as it ended.
Create a good support system for the patient and yourself. My sister had an amazing group of family and friends that helped with her children. Knowing they were taken care of gave her the ability to focus on herself. My family and friends were so helpful for my sanity. I spent all of my energy being strong for my sister. They kept my batteries charged and gave me the love and support I needed to keep going.
And finally, if you ever need to call 911, make sure you are thoughtful and have the patient put on a robe before four firemen and two EMS technicians enter the house. My sister has thanked me a million times for all that I did for her, but I am not sure that she will ever forgive me for her trip to the hospital, via ambulance, wearing a nightgown that looked like it came from Fredrick's of Hollywood. She could have appreciated the fact that they were all handsome. That was just a coincidence, though. You know how they say when you fly that you should put your oxygen mask on first and then help the people around you? Well, for the record I brought a roadie in the ambulance. I figured it was going to be a long night and I was correct. I did get a Diet Sprite for her though, after I finished my drink.