"Never underestimate the power of love, and the power of your own thoughts."
In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a group of lung cancer bloggers have gotten together to show the many faces of lung cancer, one for each day of the month. Today we highlight a caregiver. In a completely scientific and unbiased selection process, I chose my wife Genevieve de Renne to interview.
Genevieve’s role as a caregiver have been broad-reaching. Her efforts have ranged from the completely practical, such as her pit bull diplomacy with my oncologist, to creating several series of artwork that rotate in our home which are designed to “give subtle healing messages.” She employs countless methods that are more esoteric in order to influence the healing process, but in the end, I translate all of them to mean that she is sending me her love.
Here is my interview with her:
How long have you been a caregiver? “If you are just talking about being a lung cancer caregiver, it has been a little more than nine years since you were diagnosed the first time. If you define being a caregiver as being there for someone unconditionally, it started when I was a single mom, and then when I was a caregiver for my parents in their later years.”
What was it like in the beginning? “I was in an emotional haze. It’s gut-wrenching to see your loved one go through something like this, and to know that there’s nothing you can do. I had no control, and it was challenging for me. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly I could go to straight to fear.”
What do you wish you would have known at the beginning that you know now? “I wish I would have known that a diagnosis is not a prognosis. I would want to know that we make adjustments, and that life continues. It just takes a different course. I would want to know how important it is to stay in the present, and not let my fears take over.”
What has been the hardest part? “My fear of losing you. For example, if your cough doesn’t sound right, or it sounds like you are breathing harder. It brings up my fears of loss and abandonment. If you have old issues, cancer will bring them right back to the surface. I have to stop every time I have a negative thought, and consciously change it.”
What has been the most rewarding part? “Watching you grow into your gifts. Seeing you develop your interest in writing, and sharing it with others. Watching you let people see the light inside of you.”
What advice would you give to other caregivers? “First, you are a witness to the process... you can’t fix it for your loved one. We can only do what is within our control.
Next, be prepared to be really flexible. There is no clear path, so you have to make it up as you go along. You just have to have faith that the next section of road will appear when you need it.
Finally, remember that you are a part of this journey. Embrace the changes within yourself as you go through this. Emotional things are going to come up, and you need to be present every step of the way. You are becoming a stronger, better person because of what you are going through.”
What do you think would be the most surprising thing for survivors to know about what it’s like to be a caregiver? “Caregivers feel helpless many times. The journey is a physical one if you have cancer, and an emotional one if you are the caregiver.”
How has being a caregiver changed you? “Totally! I think being there unconditionally for somebody… not the Hallmark card version, but really knowing it in my bones, has been the most rewarding part. Knowing the deeper parts of loving somebody and being loved, and feeling that on a cellular level.”
What is something that people wouldn’t know about you? “I think that, because I’m quiet, people don’t know how much inner strength I have. I rely heavily on my inner strengths, my resilience, my problem solving, my flexibility, and my creativity.”
What gives you hope? “Your passion for life! Also, that we just learned that there’s another treatment step that will soon be available for you. In the big picture, people are surviving longer, and speaking out more. I love that there are people who are passionate about research who are making a difference!”
What resources have been most useful in helping you through the challenges? “Having support people that consistently give me a bigger perspective. For me, that has been my twin sister, and a good friend.”
Last parting words? "Never underestimate the power of love, and the power of your own thoughts. You have to love every cell in your body and send them positive thoughts. This applies to caregivers as well as survivors."
Click here to see yesterday’s story about Dr. Alice Shaw, written by blogger Linnea Olson.
Click here to see tomorrow’s story about Jamie Schull, written by blogger Kim Wieneke.
For a link to every profile written in Lung Cancer Awareness Month, click here.