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Why Caretakers Like My Husband Are Heroes in My Book

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We sat next to each other in that solemn office while my hands nervously moved about. He glanced at me and smiled as if to say, “It’s going to be OK.”

We knew it was bad.

But we were in no way prepared for the news we got.

I was to start chemotherapy.

At 14 weeks pregnant.

I watched his face as tears drenched my shirt. How could this be happening? This was not part of the plan. I had already served my time as a sick person, or so I thought.

We had been told one-third of patients go into remission during pregnancy, one-third stay the same and one-third get worse. We were naively hopeful that things would quiet down for me. Perhaps this was our chance, if we were ever going to take one, for me to get better.

Even for a little while.

We never imagined that, for us, starting a family would entail discussions regarding the risks and benefits of chemotherapy.

We had little option but to concede.

We drove our heavy hearts home that afternoon. I glanced in his direction, noting the worry behind his eyes. He tried his best to hide it.

But he never really could.

Some time passed, and again I watched his face as we received news of avascular necrosis, a condition leading to the death of the bones in my hips. I watched as he helped me into my wheelchair, and I studied his face as he carried me up the stairs.

I secretly waited for him to get angry. Angry with me. To wish he were somewhere else, anywhere else. Maybe even with someone else. But the anger never came.

Again, I watched him as I was placed on high dose prednisone, leading to a devastating 40-pound weight gain. I waited, secretly bracing myself for an inadvertent comment here or there. Or perhaps a subtle look of disapproval, confirming my own secret feelings of guilt and shame. But the looks and comments never came.

A few months passed, and I glanced to the foot of my hospital bed, noting his furrowed brow as he looked in my direction. The past few days hadn’t gone well, and deep concern was written all over his face. I had endured a hip replacement, but there were complications. The anesthesia didn’t take, and my pain was severe. More, my legs were now two different lengths, requiring an additional surgery for revision.

All we could think was, “At 33 years old, how did we get here?”

I exhaled deeply, bracing myself for movement, as I needed to use the bathroom. I watched as he quickly moved about the room in an attempt to help me sit up and make my way out of bed. My pain was returning again, and my muscles clenched in agony. Tears of frustration soaked my cheeks as I struggled to sit up in bed.

I looked up to see him swallow hard, holding back tears of his own. I knew he wanted to be strong. Strong for me and my daughter. Anything to make things OK for his girls.

But his eyes. His eyes told a different story. They were the eyes of a broken man. They were eyes filled with sadness. And dark circles that had come to stay. They were eyes that spoke of weariness and sorrow, having been beaten down one too many times by the unrelenting and cruel storms of chronic disease.

But he would never tell.

No, instead he persisted. Persisted in faith. And persisted in care.

It has been said, “Love is not what you say, it is what you do.” He had proven this to be true time and time again in caring for us despite his own exhaustion and desire to just rest.

There were dishes to be cleaned and laundry to be put away, and he had worked all day. It saddened me as I watched the exhaustion take over his body, knowing he was the one getting up with our 3-year-old daughter so I could rest. He knew without rest, I would flare. And so, he insisted without hesitation that he would be the one to get up early with our girl. Not only that, but at bedtime he would be the one to put her down again, so I could rest to somehow help alleviate some of my pain.

But it was too much. Too much for one person, and I knew it. But what choice did we have?

Even still, after all of his sacrifice, I am the one to receive flowers and cards in the mail. I am the one to receive visits in the hospital. And I am the one to receive countless emails and text messages with prayers and good thoughts for healing.

As thankful as I am for the love I have received (and truly, I am!), I can’t help but ask, not only as a patient but also as a wife, a mother, a nurse and a friend, “Who is left to care for the caretaker?” Who takes care of the person who cares for everyone but himself? Who supports the one who takes on more than he should, the one who shoulders more than he should, all in the name of love? Who cares for that person? Because as brave as we all are, and as much as we all face (and we face a lot), it is the
caretakers like him that are, in my opinion, the real and often unsung heroes in the story.

They are the ones who dress those of us who can’t dress ourselves. They are the ones who feed their loved one, standing by them each meal. They are there for every new health crisis and every bump in the road. They are there for every ugly moment and every bitter tear. Their love doesn’t waver. They aren’t looking for an easy way out.

These rare, beautiful people are the heroes in my book.

Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox that if I give until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.”

These people aren’t seeking attention for the amount they sacrificially give. And they aren’t posting their good deeds on social media for the world to see. No, their work is often done in private with little to no thanks.

And still, they give.

Bryan Butvidas said, “Love is selflessly giving your breath away to allow someone else to breathe.”

And so, today and every day I am thankful for the one I have standing beside me, who has on more than one occasion given me his breath so that I could breathe.

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Originally published: November 15, 2016
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