I began to gather resources online by spending hours upon hours late at night on the internet. I looked up financial resources to help with gas cards, how to navigate insurance, disability, and requested all of the brochures possible from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society. As I gained more knowledge, I felt myself slip into a warm pair of boots, feeling like I had more secure grounding. I was better informed and felt more armed to walk down the road of the cancer journey, despite still not being able to see through the masses of swirling snowflakes and at times, sleet.
I quickly realized that one of the most major parts of this journey was to take care or myself. At first it felt somewhat selfish, as my husband was the patient…however I had to figure out what worked best to keep my batteries charged and running, even when the snowy road threw my tires into a ditch. I started creating blog posts to inform and update our supporters on CaringBridge and Facebook, which allowed me to feel safe, supported and heard, while still having boundaries to not be overloaded via text, phone and email from all of those that wanted to know how things were going. This social support provided the needed warmth on my hands, giving me mittens to keep from getting frostbite from the dangerously low temperatures here in Minnesota.
I learned that taking time away for myself whether it be a cup of tea with a friend, taking a nap, a walk or binging a favorite TV show, was what I needed to do to be able to recharge my batteries to be in the right mental and physical space to be there for my loved one. Caregiver burnout is very real, and I often burned the candle at both ends, learning the hard way why self-care needed to be more of a priority in my life. I don’t think that our supporters and loved ones can fully grasp or understand why it is so important to go to dinner with friends or to a movie or concert (outside of Covid-19 times of course), when your loved one is in the hospital or stuck at home. What those that aren’t going through what you are in this crazy world of cancer don’t know is how hard it is to balance it all. Cancer is the belligerent relative at the holiday gathering that no one really knows how to deal with or control. They are there for better or worse, and it’s up to you to know how to balance and work with what you’ve been given. When you take the time to understand and embrace what is….you can feel more at peace in taking the cancer process day by day, if not hour by hour. You have to let the little things go, your house may not always be sparkly clean and everything may not get done- but the cancer patient has everything they need and you are a more balanced person to support them. Once I figured out how to balance things better, a scarf was wrapped around my neck, and I was better prepared for the snowstorm.
Cancer is definitely not something that is asked for, however with adequate resources, knowledge, social support and the practice of self-care, it is all doable. I was able to take my experience as a cancer wife, then widow and beyond to create a book to share with the world on how I navigated the cancer world one day at a time, and live today with such thankfulness for the journey that brought me here today. I still absolutely love snow, and am excited for the snowstorm that is supposed to hit this afternoon with 4-7 inches, as I now know the ways to make sure I am storm ready to walk through the journeys in front of me, as you too, walk through your own snowstorms as well.
Rachel Engstrom M.S.W, C.H.E.S, (1982) moved to the Twin Cities from Michigan in 2000 for undergrad and has been there ever since. She has her masters in Social Work and is a Certified Health Education Specialist. Rachel wrote her “Wife, Widow, Now What? How I Navigated the Cancer World and You Can, Too,” book is based on her own personal experience as a cancer wife then widow that is an invaluable resource to anyone going through the cancer process/journey whether patient, caregiver, or supporter. Rachel wrote this book to help others along the way with a fresh, witty and authentic narrative, and dreams of a world without cancer. Until then she’d love to help you feel less alone on your path.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.