Friend, neighbor, giver
ABOUT SUZANNE, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- Kim and I met pushing strollers through the neighborhood. We raised our kids together and helped each other out whenever needed.
- I’ve been honored to be a caregiver for Kim. I have a strong faith, and that helps me too.
- There are some days when all you can process is five minutes at a time, and I’ve come to learn that that’s okay.
- What really matters is here and now and that every second of every day, we can count on each other.
A Story Of Friendship
What does it take to be a caregiver? This question only started to matter to me when I discovered I had become one. I’ve once heard it said that you have to go through the darkness to see the light. I now understand what that means.
My husband has always been my rock and I know without question that he is my soul mate. Soon after our wedding, we purchased a house, where we found some incredible neighbors who were about to enrich our lives in so many ways. And this is where Kim comes into my story.
Kim and I met pushing strollers through the neighborhood. She had just had her first son, and I just had my first daughter. In a way, Kim and I grew up together since our early 20s; Kim and I were pregnant at the same time, and she had another boy, and I had another girl. We raised our kids together and helped each other out whenever needed. My daughters call “Mrs. Kim” their “second mom.” We are like one big family.
Cancer Cuts In
Our big family has been through a lot together: birthdays and baptisms, deaths and graduations, vacations, and now the “C word” (as Kim calls it), cancer. Kim was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer 12 years ago. Kim was very private the first time she was diagnosed. She didn’t want anyone to know, especially not the kids, and she didn’t want anyone to help at all. It’s actually surprising how well she was able to keep this under wraps, but she did it. Kim finished her treatments, went into remission, and we hoped to never have the “C word” conversation again.
And then one day, Kim started having severe lower back pain. They drew her blood and did tests, and Kim told me when she was going to the doctor’s office with her husband and mother to get her results. She promised she would call me as soon as she was done. The phone finally rang, and she said that she was on her way to my house to tell me in person. I waited on the front porch for her; I already knew what she was going to say. If it were good news she would have told me on the phone.
There was nothing but the sound of the trees blowing in the wind until I heard the three beeps of my gate. Her car drove up slowly, and she got out of the car, and she just looked at me. I know her so well, there was no need for any words. We hugged, and I cried and thought that this couldn’t be real. We walked inside and tried to put empty words into sentences, to put a game plan together to tell her boys.
One Step At A Time
This time, we didn’t attempt to brush it under the carpet and told our kids. Everybody was older, and it was much more serious now. My daughters were devastated that their second mom, Mrs. Kim, now had metastatic breast cancer.
Kim learned about a first-line treatment for postmenopausal women with HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer called IBRANCE at the local cancer center, and before starting it, she got a second opinion. She discussed what she learned with me: She said it was a treatment she was considering because it could be used along with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor, to treat her specific type of cancer. I supported Kim’s decision to take it. Kim and her oncologist were pleased with the results of the treatment. She experienced side effects including changes in her white blood cell counts, diarrhea, hair loss, anemia, changes in her nail beds, and weight gain. We were aware that patients have had other side effects, such as infections or fatigue. Overall, Kim’s experience was a positive one, but that’s just her, and other women may have different experiences. Kim is no longer taking IBRANCE with letrozole and is now receiving a different treatment.
Through Thick And Thin
For all the joy and support I’ve received from Kim over the years, there was never a question for me what needed to be done. If you’re a friend, you’re a friend. You don’t just quit. She never quit on me either. That, I think, is what makes a friend, not just a caregiver.
Kim’s breast cancer journey has been a sad and scary one. But it didn’t change anything in the way we treat each other or look at life. And I know that’s not the same for everyone who goes through this kind of ordeal, which breaks my heart. As they say, it’s during the bad times when you find out who truly is your friend. In our case, that was never a question.
They call it caregiving, like it was a gift from me, but I consider it a gift to me. I’ve been honored to be a caregiver for Kim. I have a strong faith, and that helps me too. I also have the love and support of my husband and our two amazing daughters, and for that I am eternally grateful. I don’t regret one day of taking care of others.
Ups And Downs Of Caregiving
So what is a caregiver? I can tell you that in my case, it was simply a hand I was dealt. I was given responsibilities based on the various roles I have: I am a daughter, a wife, a mom, a friend, a business owner, and in general, a very busy person! It would have been easy to throw my hands in the air and say that this really didn’t fit so well into my life. But for me that was never even an option. There are some days when all you can process is five minutes at a time, and I’ve come to learn that that’s okay. Before you know it, the time has passed and you have made it through another day.
Kim inspires me every day. She is living each day with cancer. Kim still smiles through everything—even when she’s having a lousy day and doesn’t feel her best. She still loves being outdoors, squeezes every moment of joy out of each day, and never misses an opportunity to amaze us all. And I’m grateful to be a witness to it and a part of her life. Now is definitely not the time for us to become “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” people. Nobody knows how much time we still have together, and honestly, I don’t want to let my mind go there anyway. What really matters is here and now and that every second of every day, we can count on each other.