MATTHEWS: The ups and downs of a caregiver 

I’ve been caregiving in varying capacities for family members going on for some six years now, and for roughly the last year it’s been a full-time responsibility. 

As anyone who has done it will tell you, there are a lot of ups and downs to it, and they take on a special significance when the person you’re caring for is a loved one or someone with who you’ve otherwise become close. 

After my mom’s colon cancer diagnosis in October, I pretty much had to put myself in “auto-pilot, we can do this” mode. We weren’t prepared to hear the words “you’ve got colon cancer” after her colonoscopy, but once we did, I could tell she tuned out, likely from shock. I told myself right then that I’d be the second set of eyes and ears mom needed to help her get through what she was about to experience. 

It’s been like a whirlwind ever since, and for good reason. Obviously, when someone gets a cancer diagnosis, they want their care team to act quickly before the cancer gets a chance to spread further. 

Mom had surgery to remove the tumor three weeks after her diagnosis. Two weeks later, we learned that chemotherapy was the next step in the journey to hopefully being cancer-free. Two weeks after that, we were talking to her medical oncologist about options. Three weeks after that (which was two days before Christmas), she was having surgery to put in the port-a-cath. And then a few weeks after that is when her chemo started. 

She chose the three-month chemotherapy option, which in her case means two treatments a month for a total of six. 

Watching her go through the things a chemo patient has to go through has been a sobering experience for me both as a caregiver and her daughter. Mom is closing in on 80 years of age, and thankfully she still has so much fight left in her, but I know what she’s having to go through is taking its toll, and it is heartbreaking. 

Many people who have had chemo will recall the peripheral neuropathy that comes from certain chemo medications. In mom’s case, the pins and needles feeling hit her early on in her sessions. 

In her case, the most intense part of the tingling usually goes away a few days after she’s had a treatment, with some mild tingling going on after that to the point it tapers off and she feels pretty normal. 

But when she’s in the midst of dealing with it, all I want to do is to wrap my arms around her and comfort her, because she’s so uncomfortable to the point it sometimes becomes painful. 

And there’s nothing I can do to make it go away. It’s extremely frustrating, and I’ve cried about it sometimes. 

I’ve told her that as I watch her go through this that the feeling is like when my sisters and I would get sick and she would do everything she could to make us better but still would have to wait for the body to do its thing, which needless to say wasn’t fast enough for her. 

She’s completed four treatments. Fortunately, she has an excellent medical oncologist and care team who I know have her best interests at heart. We know that if adjustments need to be made in her treatment, they’ll let us know what the options are. 

I wish I had even half as much confidence in myself to help guide her through this as I have in the medical professionals taking care of her. But as she often tells me, we just need to take this one day at a time and not worry so much, because God is in control. 

North Carolina native Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a media analyst and regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.