A few years ago, my husband, Tory, was diagnosed with cancer.
Treatment for an injury at work led doctors to the discovery that he had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells.
It was a sobering and shocking diagnosis; he was the first person in his Family ever to be diagnosed with cancer.
I submitted the forms at work to take Family medical leave and received additional donated sick days from colleagues.
Our new normal consisted of radiation and chemotherapy at the UNC Cancer Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Tory was assigned a team of doctors who guided him down the path of treatment. We had to learn about picks and bone marrow testing, X-rays and anticancer drugs.
For months, my husband could barely move. He couldnít turn over in bed. He couldnít walk.
He faced disbelief and depression. There were days when he didnít even want the window blinds open. As he went through treatment, I was careful to tell him that I didnít know what he was going through, because, though I was by his side, I wasnít the one with the diagnosis. There was some truth in that, but as days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, I came to a different realization: I told him that cancer was a rock that had landed on me and our sons as well.
Their lives changed as they were shuttled between grandparents. Unable to take a Family vacation that year, Tory and I were even grateful that his sister and husband took the boys on vacation with them.
The boys struggled to stay focused in school; to complete homework assignments. They asked if their daddy was going to die. I told them that we will all die one day, but that the doctors had caught the cancer early, increasing his chance of survival.
After a few months, Tory underwent a stem cell transplant and was eventually assigned to an outpatient care facility. Subsequent months brought rehabilitation that eased him from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane.
Along the way, we were buoyed by people who brought over dishes, bought groceries, prayed for us. Our pastor came to house and administered communion to Tory.
The battle against cancer taught us a great deal ó we learned the strength of our Family; that no matter what, weíre a Family of fighters.
Chapel Hill wasnít the first hospital that Iíd unpacked and stayed in. Prior to Toryís illness, Iíd unpacked a suitcase at Duke Hospital to stay bedside by my grandfather. I learned through Family illness that the most important role I could play was caregiver.
Nearly 30 years removed from high school, I now watch classmates struggle to take care of aging parents and grandparents. Daily activities have to be planned around taking a loved one to the doctor; the price of prescription drugs equal or sometimes exceed the monthly allowance for groceries.
We look in the faces of those who cared for us when we were children and see questions we donít always know how to answer; we see mobility crippled by illnesses such as congestive heart failure, arthritis, gout, and other diagnoses.
But, we fulfill our duties as caregivers.
We know that the same measure of patience and love we show them may be the same meted to us by our children as we grow older.
When I was growing up, the elders used to say, Ďbe careful how you treat people because you never know who will give you your last drink of water before you die.í
Iím in awe of classmates and colleagues who work fulltime jobs and then spend second shift taking care of an ailing relative. Iím awed by those who forego their own illnesses and sick days at work to take a loved one to a check up; those who sync their calendar with the calendar of a parent feebled by illness.
The caregivers who donít abandon their duties as caretakers are the ones who embody the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: ď...inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.Ē
Hereís to hoping that 2015 is a year that arms us with all we need to do, not only for ourselves, but for those who are unable to do for themselves.