“One day, you will tell your story about how you overcame what you went through and it’ll be someone else’s survival guide.”
There are dates in our lives that are so significant, you’ll never forget them from year to year. The birth of a child, sweet 16, graduations, weddings, promotions, anniversaries, divorces, changing jobs, deaths. And on those days, we pause to celebrate, to grieve, or simply reflect. Like you, I have lots of dates that stand out for one reason or another but of significance this year - May 31st, 2022.
One year later, I pause on this particular day to allow myself to reflect on how far we’ve come, and the lessons learned. I reluctantly choose to feel the emotions, returning to an experience I never asked for nor wanted. It was Day 1. A day I had dreaded as reality had finally caught up with me. This was the first day of Jason’s cancer treatments.
I had journaled for hours the night before, anxiously sharing with our family and friends what was to come tomorrow, May 31st. I used the CaringBridge website as my primary source of communicating with loved ones as it offered me a central location to share updates on Jason’s cancer journey. Initially, I thought this method of communicating was “so much easier” as I knew the effect of resharing, over and over, the devastating updates was having on me emotionally. Never did I expect to find support, strength, insight, healing and ultimately – myself. What was intended to serve as a place to offer updates turned into my own personal journal, sharing my thoughts and feelings, vulnerability and confessing hard truths that most would never admit to one person let alone 75 or so.
I would provide these updates almost daily until we returned home and at subsequent follow up visits with the doctors until October 4th, 2022. Another significant date. It was on this date that we were told Jason’s scans indicated “No Cancer Detected”.
I didn’t plan it this way but this year, we decided to go on vacation, an Alaskan cruise. It would be the first big vacation since before the pandemic. It was a once in a lifetime trip and I was ready. And I’m fairly sure I brought my entire closet as we packed for every season!
I tend to be creative and work “a little” on vacation. There was no reason to think this time would be different. It wasn’t until I was removed from my real life that I realized how I had reverted to old habits. Ones I had promised myself never to return. After cruising for a day or two, I decided to slow down and give myself permission not to check emails, relax, and have fun – with my husband! At the same time, I started reflecting on the previous twelve months and where we were this time last year. Packing for a trip with no return date. Moving to a city where we knew literally no one. Accepting, embracing, and challenging the unknown.
In the mental health field, we know reflection is a powerful tool. It offers us the opportunity to learn from the past to determine how we will live our lives today and in the future. Simply put, it offers insight and change behavior. I decided to read my CaringBridge entries. I never read them after they were posted as I feared reliving a time I wanted to forget. At the time, I felt like a performer. I was trying to be strong for everyone but didn’t truly feel it. Smiled on the outside as I was falling apart on the inside. I did not realize at the time. To my surprise, I truly saw myself and so much more. In those entries, I was reminded of the hard but also strength, resilience, moments of joy and triumph, grace, vulnerability, and humility. A woman changed for the better.
After reading the entries, I thought, “What if this could help someone else? Even just one person.” And the Diary of a Caregiver series was born. Over the next 30 days, we will drop brief podcast episodes for each daily entry. You’ll hear the good, the bad and the ugly of my caregiving journey. You’ll laugh, and maybe tear up, and everything in between. Our ultimate goal with sharing this personal diary – to empower caregivers - past, present, and future. You are not alone and YES, you can do this!