~by Kathy Scanlon Opie~
Why did my best friend have to die of breast cancer, leaving two young children without a mother? Why, eight years later, would our youngest child develop a rare form of bone cancer? Why did I have to become a Cancer Mom?
My heart and emotions fluctuated between two extremes – despair over a sense of powerlessness, and pursuing courage and hope by turning my experience into a way to help others.
As a former school counselor and a stay at home mother of three children, I understood support could be found with those going through a similar journey. Realizing giving into despair would not help my son, I began to reach out to other parents on the Oncology floor.
Starting a conversation was the first step.
A short time later, the hospital social worker put me in touch with a former cancer mom. Soon, the group grew to five moms. With each get-together, I connected in new ways with these mothers as we shared our common stories. Moms further along on their journey provided a seasoned perspective, a message of hope to the new women. When one mom lost her child, the group responded with support and compassion. We were a group that “got it.”
In this group, we could relax and be unguarded with our comments because the women weren’t eager to fix a problem. An understanding that there were no quick fixes was born out of shared anguish and strength, immediate understanding, and listening hearts. This bond became a healing balm in the midst of shared grief; a bridge of mutual caring that connected us. A milestone for one was celebrated by all, with immediate understanding and caring. Doing so infused hope and optimism in our own child’s fight to get well.
During my son’s cancer illness, I wrote my experiences, reflections and perspectives in a memoir that was later crafted into a caregiver’s book titled, ‘A Little Red Wagon Full Of Hope: Tips And Inspiration From A Loving Caregiver’. I realized that I had gained valuable lessons from helping and being helped: “What does one do to help when a loved one faces a serious illness?”, whether you are the immediate caregiver, a family member, friend or neighbor. My book contains chapters including care for the caregiver, what to do to help the family, spirituality, food for the soul, and pet therapy with poignant stories, and take-away tips that help reinforce each concept.
This life-changing experience led me to give back part of the profits of my book sales to the volunteer organizations that directly helped our family, including the Northwest Sarcoma Foundation and The National Momcology Organization. As a graduate student studying marriage and family therapy, I learned that the trauma suffered from a serious disease, like cancer, can lead to depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the patient, their caregivers and families. The Northwest Sarcoma Foundation provides cancer research and patient grants. Momcology offers on-line support groups and retreats for mothers of children with cancer. Both provide vital support.
To date, my son Conner is cancer free. To celebrate his health, I am donating copies of my book to organizations and hospitals that support families and caregivers. I plan to speak about my caregiving experiences to parent support groups, churches and community and civic groups to help others who have lived my experience or know of someone who may benefit from my book.
Tips for Caregivers
- It’s okay to ask for and receive help.
- Help comes in many forms, including a listening ear, a hot meal, help with yardwork, pet care or grocery shopping.
- Anger is a natural emotion. Learn to channel and express it in healthy ways through exercise, listening to music, spirituality or yell out in a private spot.
- Food is good for the soul. Good food brings people together, it nourishes and nurtures.
- Community, friends and others who have been through similar experiences can be an invaluable resource. Don’t isolate.
- Don’t wait too long to ask for support. Seek professional help if needed; being miserable isn’t good for you or your loved one.
- Take time for self-care; taking care of the caregiver makes you better able to care for your loved one.
Meet the Author: Kathy Scanlon Opie
Kathy Scanlon Opie was born in Boston, Ma. She earned an M.S. in Psychology at Georgetown University and moved to the Seattle area with her husband Paul where she received her M.Ed. in Educational Psychology at UW. She is now working on her Masters in Couple and Family Therapy at Antioch University in Seattle, is a published author, and blogs about her passions of writing, friendships, cooking, and cancer awareness.