What a journey it has been, all it took was one day back in 2007 that has since changed the path in which my life would go. I did not know back then what to expect. I did not understand what the balance of a cancer diagnosis would be. I did not understand that a cancer diagnosis for my brother would make such a big impact on me as a caregiver.
In 2007 I was a junior at Regis University in Denver, CO. Life at that time was about school, hanging with friends, learning how to be an adult and maybe a few adult beverages with those friends. Life was going just as I thought it was supposed to, as planned as some might say. My brother was also attending Regis University during this same time, as a senior. We were inseparable, hanging with mostly the same friends and referred to around campus as the Ferro brothers or as one of our professors called us (the only class we ever took together) The Brothers Ferro. It was a day in August in which all we thought college was about, that concept of being young and invincible, was forever changed.
In August of 2007, my brother was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He has had some other challenges over the years medically but hearing the words “you have cancer” is something you can never forget. My Mom and I were in the waiting room of the hospital when we all heard those words. All trying to process what happens next, what now, and does it make sense to even think about what happens next. These are all the different emotions that go racing through your head. We will get more into this later on.
Today, in 2021 my life looks very different than I thought it might have before that day in August of 2007. Out of college I began a career working in the restaurant industry both in the restaurant and on the corporate side of the business. I got a job as a financial planner out of college, that wasn’t for me as I made it 4 months. I kept wondering what I was missing, I felt like I was getting all of the jobs I was supposed to be getting with a college degree. I would tell myself, it’s about the paycheck, making money, getting rich etc. I had a successful job, I was good at it, it for sure paid the bills and more, but I still didn’t feel complete.
In 2012 my Mom, Nancy created an organization called Epic Experience. My Mom always wanted to give back to the cancer community, to ensure people had support and a community as when Michael was first diagnosed those resources were hard to find. In 2014, much to my Mom’s surprise I asked her if I could have an interview. It’s like I knew some hidden gems of the organization but let’s just say I aced the interview process! I came to work for Epic Experience initially part time in July of 2014. During that time I also left the corporate job I had and moved back into the restaurant space part time so I could keep my benefits through my company. I had started a job in which I felt fulfilled, I was doing something that brought me joy and I felt I could make an impact. In six months after starting that job I came onto the Epic Experience staff full time and I have been doing it ever since. I love advocating for the adult cancer community, listening to them, supporting, and lastly making change to help them and future thrivers along their cancer journey.
So that is my journey, but what would I have told myself, what might have I done differently, what do I wish I could have back? Here is what I would see looking through that rearview mirror.
Did you know that one day your life would be forever altered through a cancer diagnosis that wasn’t even your own? Did you know that the word caregiver could hold so much weight, burden, stress, happiness, joy and success? Let me share some advice for those things you are not sure of.
You will not know what you don’t know. Don’t expect to have all of the answers in how to support a loved one going through a cancer diagnosis. You will have times in which you will feel like you are failing. You will have times in which you say and do the wrong things. You will have times in which you feel hopeless and helpless. That is all ok and normal.
At the end of the day what will matter is that you show up. Show up by bringing or cooking meals even when the person you are caregiving for doesn’t ask for it. Show up by coming up with silly games or things to help pass the time. Show up by just knowing you can sit next to your person quietly, , just be there and be present.
Ask questions. You will not know all of the right questions to ask or how to answer them. Find a peer that has already been through cancer as a survivor and or caregiver and ask them questions and advice. Not everyone will be a fit for this and that is ok, but once you find that person that is open, lean on them to support you.
Lastly, support yourself. Know it is ok to let your guard down. It is ok for you to make time for yourself and to do the things you enjoy. As you are going through this trying to support your brother think about who is or can support you. Take the breaks when needed, go for the walks, play that round of golf, go for that hike. Remind yourself that as much energy as you put into caring for your brother, you should put that same energy into finding ways to care for yourself.
Colin aka Wingman
If you are out there and you feel alone or you need support know I am here to listen and hopefully show up for you. Epic Experience is more than a job to me. At Epic Experience our mission is to empower adult cancer survivors and thrivers beyond their cancer diagnosis. It is our mission, as the leadership of Epic Experience to ensure that anyone that comes to our programs or interacts with us via email or phone knows we are there to support them in the cancer journey. I am here to support any of you reading this in your cancer journey. In times in which you do not know where to turn, know I will be the stranger for you to lend a helping hand and I will show up.
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://elephantsandtea.cdn-pi.com/contact/submissions/.