November is National Family Caregivers’ month, a month dedicated to focusing on the emotional, personal and financial challenges caregivers face whether they provide assistance to a loved one for a few years or for a lifetime. Debbie Hevesy, 24 Foundation Atlanta rider and former caregiver to her husband Brian, knows all too well the fears and anxieties associated with taking on a responsibility that one does not necessarily choose, but is chosen for them.
“You don’t choose to become a caregiver, you just become one,” said Debbie Hevesy. “[Cancer] is a scary diagnosis, one filled with uncertainty and fear for the future. Initially, I felt afraid because I was worried about the fatality – I felt that I didn’t want to lose Brian, and I didn’t want him to miss the milestones of the future – the boys graduating from college, getting married, having children, retirement, etc.”
Wife turned caregiver, Debbie followed her husband Brian’s lead by maintaining some sense of normalcy in their lives. Debbie and Brian had two children in college and one child in high school when Brian was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. While his children were in school, Brian worked through his months of treatment. Both Debbie and Brian told their boys as much as they wanted to hear and always told them the truth as they knew it.
The caregiver role changed for Debbie once Brian was admitted to the hospital for 30 days to undergo a stem cell transplant in hopes of eradicating his cancer. Brian’s release from the hospital was the most difficult time for Debbie as a caregiver as she found it challenging to find foods and drinks that agreed with Brian’s palette.
“He would say,“I would like some of that iced tea in the bottle”, so I would buy it, and it would not taste good. Or applesauce, or grape juice, or punch, or pudding, or even water! – some bottled water can taste very metallic to chemo patients” Debbie said.
The trial and error of knowing what would be tolerable to her husband was very frustrating, but for Debbie it was well worth it.
“Overall, the most rewarding aspect was that Brian was a good patient and whatever I did was enough and was appreciated,” Debbie said. “And most times that was just being there, and knowing that everything was going along fairly normally with the family.”
For others assuming the role of caregiver, Debbie advises to know your patient and to know how far you can go with him or her. Do not smother them, but make the experience as easy as possible for them. Lastly, use available resources from the hospital and organizations, such as LIVESTRONG and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).
“Just be there,” Debbie said. “Go to the doctor appointments because two ears are better than one, take notes or talk to someone who has been through the journey. I would say that it is hard to watch your loved one go through the treatment of cancer and the recovery, but keeping positive and keeping things normal worked for our family, and it still does. We have been very fortunate – Brian has seen most of those milestones I feared he would miss, and more!”
Celebrate caregivers this month:
1. Take over for a few hours – give a family caregiver a few hours away with friends or time alone so they can simply relax.
2. Brighten a family caregiver’s day – send a card or flower bouquet of appreciation.
3. Let a caregiving family in your community relax & enjoy the holiday – offer to prepare or help cook a Thanksgiving dinner.
4. Connect a family caregiver with support and educational materials via the Caregivers Action Network.
5. Let us know how we can help support you. Contact us!