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Posted: May 12, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Ridding the Bedroom of Cancer's 'Elephant'

Bill Andrew

Once again, I want to share another “bowl of caregiver’s chicken soup” with you directly from the classic book Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul. This recipe is slightly different from that described in my previous article on the book (A Can’t-Miss Recipe for Caregiver’s Chicken Soup).

LeAnn Thieman, LPN, and her co-authors have brought the “good medicine” inherent in chicken soup, as documented in many studies, to support all caregivers through the stories in this must-read book. I hope the stories LeAnn shares with us, both in the book and in this column, will lift your spirits, nourish your soul, and remind you that others understand what you are going through as a caregiver.

Today, LeAnn shares a story that can be found on page 50 of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul. LeAnn provides her personal thought provoking insight into this story – “Keeping a marriage intact can be a heart-breaking challenge for caregivers. Prayer, and simple acts of love, can sustain both you and your love for your spouse.”


Banishing Cancer from the Bedroom

"Life is a flower for which love is the honey".

-- Victor Hugo

“It’s like an elephant in the bedroom,” my husband Rudy said of his advanced prostate cancer. “We can’t get rid of it.”

“Yes we can,” I said, with a bravado I didn’t feel. “Let’s make a pact. We won’t let this cancer consume us. You’re still Rudy, my loving husband.” Not Rudy, the cancer patient, I thought. But how do we kick the intrusive cancer elephant out of the bedroom? Months of fatigue weighed heavily on my shoulders, dragging me down. Sometimes I felt so exhausted I could hardly move my feet.

Rudy’s cancer had spread to his bones causing excruciating pain which lessened when he lay on our queen-size bed -- propped against pillows piled at his back. He raised his left hand, his wedding ring loosely dangling. I clasped his pale hand in both of mine. Rudy had played the violin with that hand as a child; he was sensitive and artistic. But now his poetic sense of joy was being beaten down. I knew it was up to me to keep this cancer elephant from dominating our lives and destroying our marriage.

One day before lunch, I went out to our yard. I looked up at the bright late-summer sky with its wisps of clouds. Silently, I prayed for the strength to help us both preserve the love we felt for each other. God, I prayed, please don’t let this illness destroy our marriage. I lowered my eyes. There was a delicate dark-red rosebud just beginning to open by our front walkway. It looked so fragile, just like our love. I picked it and put it in a small glass vase on Rudy’s lunch tray. He rarely ate and coaxing him had been so hard.

“Oh, what a lovely rosebud,” he said. “Look how it’s just starting to open. It looks like a baby’s mouth.” Rudy smiled for the first time in days. He lifted the small vase to his nose. Since chemotherapy had dulled Rudy’s sense of smell, I didn’t know whether he could catch the scent of the fragile flower. But he seemed to absorb its presence in some way of his own.

Taking small precise bites, he ate more lunch than usual. When he finished, I set the little rosebud on his tray table and put the food tray on the dresser instead of taking it to the kitchen. Dirty dishes could always wait.

I stretched out beside Rudy on the bed and we held hands as I stroked his head. The pain that often dominated his arms and legs seemed to have receded as he rested calmly. I lay there feeling the warmth of his body next to me, listening to him breathing quietly. I felt the tension leaving my shoulders; I let myself go limp. I closed my eyes, and we both slept, still holding hands.

That night before I brought Rudy his dinner, I went out to the yard, walking with more energy, looking for flowers. What will I find to make him smile? I thought as I looked around the yard. The bright yellow heads of marigolds shone in the slanting afternoon light. I selected a bright yellow one. I perceived it to be the color of hope because it had the brilliance of the sun.

When I took Rudy his dinner tray, it had a small glass with the yellow marigold on it.

“Oh,” he said, “look how cheerful it is. Just like a little sunbeam.” He chuckled. I hadn’t heard Rudy chuckle in weeks, although before, he had loved to laugh. Now I laughed out loud with him. “Yes,” I said, “it’s greeting you.” He raised the little glass to his nose; I wondered if he caught the pungent scent of the marigold, so much stronger than the rose.

“This is good applesauce,” he said, consuming the last bite. I set the marigold on his tray table next to the rosebud, and put his dinner tray aside on the dresser. Again, I lay down next to him on the bed, stroked his forehead and held his hand. The bedroom was very quiet. Nothing intruded on our togetherness. I could hear nothing but Rudy’s even breathing. I felt his warmth and nearness. Again, we both fell into a peaceful sleep.

From then on, Rudy’s breakfast, lunch and dinner trays always held a flower or a small sprig of fresh holly or greenery. His anticipation turned his mealtimes into a happy ritual. It became our intimate game. I loved to go hunting for just the right bloom from our yard. I loved to see the light in his eyes as he saw the blossoms of hope I brought him with his food. I loved hearing his comments. “Oh,” he might say, “Just look at the shade of orange of that leaf. It flames like a sunset.”

Yes, we did banish the elephant from the bedroom – with flowers. And I learned that even the elephant of terminal cancer can’t stomp out love.

-- Peggy Eastman


(Banishing Cancer from the Bedroom is reprinted herein by written permission of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul. To learn more about this book, contact the co-author, LeAnn Thieman, professional speaker, author, and nurse at her website .)


As the 24/7 caregiver for my spouse, Carol, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, this story reminds me of the occasions when Carol recognizes me for what I do for her. It might be her eye expression, her body language, a “thank you,” her general reactions, her doing what I ask her to do. If you can relate to this story and would like to share your personal experience, I would love to hear from you at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

WORDS TO CARE BY…

“Love cures people, the ones who receive love –
and the ones who give it, too.”
Karl A. Menninger


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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