What Helps When You’re on the Front Line? | A Cancer Journey

What Helps When You’re on the Front Line? | A Cancer Journey

This is Part III of my story, to read Part I, or Part II, click here.

{ my husband Lou was diagnosed with cancer and given months to live. this is what happened to both of us as his life drew to an end. the people that touched me were angels and not many people read this part of the story. if you know someone on the front lines like i was, here’s what you can do to help }

It was amazing to us how quickly Lou lost basic strength and the ability to just handle any of the normal routines.  He was having difficulty navigating the stairs to our bedroom, but insisted on remaining there, though hospice had an open bed order.

There was a huge DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) sheet on display in the house.  We were told if anything occurred we must call Hospice, not 9-1-1. That came into play quickly in the middle of the night when Lou fell in the bathroom and couldn’t get up.  I was next to no help.  It took us over an hour to get him into bed and nearly injured both of us.  This was so distressing.  Hospice was unavailable and we were temporarily on our own. It was so frightening.

We both realized the hospital bed was now inevitable.  We placed the order.

The will to do and be Lou’s “everything” was so strong in me.  I did not look in the mirror and see what it was doing to me.  Even if I had, I did not care.

Here are some of the sweet things that really helped me walk through this.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/aurorat

*We maintained daily devotions and prayer together.

Taken a little out of context, but comforting still the same, I read Psalm 107:6-10 to us every day.  It became our conscious choice to praise the Lord for the circumstance in which we found ourselves. We also read from sheets of scriptures on healing promises, here are a few of the ones we went to often: James 5:14, Jeremiah 17:14, & Isaiah 53:5.

*Family Support:  Our daughter April worked it out to be there for part of most days.  Just having the support and her cheerful personality perked Lou up greatly and me, too, not to mention her fabulous cooking.

*I identified a core group of friends and family who were standing with us and maintained contact. I did this through Facebook and group emails. One sister-in-law checked in weekly and I took the time to be specific in my response covering the previous week and current prayer requests. She passed it on to the rest of the family.

*I accepted visitors, meals, and any other helps that were offered.  It is amazing how much my work, Rotary, friends, church and close neighbors wanted to provide meals.  I was so thankful and encouraged!  My favorite was chicken soup. Lou was able to sample most everything.  Those visits strengthened and uplifted both of us greatly.  Our most frequent visitor was our pastor, Mike Bayer.

*Music became even more important than usual.  I identified with certain song lyrics and a couple really “got me through” tough moments.  Sara MacLachlin’s “Answer” (If it takes a lifetime, I won’t break, I won’t bend”  ran through my brain during all the tough times.)  And Twila Paris’ “Fix your Eyes on Jesus” was another mantra:  “Following Close behind, Following, ever blinded to the things that “should” not move me…Fix your eyes on Jesus” (not on what was quickly happening right before my eyes!)  We also had quiet, but uplifting music playing most of the time.

*Taking breaks.  Boy that was a tough one.  I didn’t want to be out of Lou’s presence.  And believe me, he didn’t want me out of the room.  But it became important to leave for short periods, even it was to rush to the pharmacy and wait for drug refills, or walk around the block.  Once Lou was in a coma, I even went to Dana Point the morning of his birthday.  Angela and I walked the harbor with the dogs and sat on our bench and watched the waves in his honor.  Bella, his Bernese Mountain dog knew right where she was. She jumped up and sat on the bench,  nuzzled us and watched the water quietly for nearly an hour.  It was a healing time.

I Needed To See Her In That Pink Casket: Viewing Our Loved Ones

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bitterfly

*Getting enough rest myself.  That never happened.  Looking back, I should have found some way to make sure it did.  If you find yourself in this situation, insist on it, for your own health and for your sanity.

*Actually fitting myself into Lou’s hospital bed with him.  I really wish I had done this more, in retrospect.  We did it a few times and those have become precious memories.  If I had it to do over, I would have personally rented a larger bed.  Being in a separate rollaway right next to him just didn’t do it.

Everyone’s journey is different.  Some cancers are actually beatable.  Some aren’t, but come on so slowly and gradually that everyday life and even the ability to continue working is possible.  Our situation was totally the opposite.  The trip to total incapacity was extremely fast.

But whatever you may be experiencing and at whatever level, I believe these points may help you, too.

|| what about you?

Have you been through a similar struggle?

What helped you?

What do you wish you would have done differently?

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.

50 Comments

  1. Lori says:

    Anne,
    Thank you for your transparency and for sharing exactly what the before, during and after of losing Lou has looked like for you. I know it is hard for you to revisit this time. While part of you wants to “move on”, it is healthy for you to grieve Lou’s loss fully, even if it rips your heart out some days. I am glad I get to see you here at work, even if only for a hug. I don’t always have the right words, but hugs are always readily available.
    I have not had to go through the experience of watching anyone close to me deteriorate from cancer or any other horrific illness. I consider myself lucky in that respect, and I am certain my time is coming.
    Thank you for walking these steps before me so I know what to do to keep myself healthy while saying “goodbye” to somebody I love.

    Love you,
    Lori

    • Anne Anderson Collins says:

      Lori
      It’s easy to assume we will always be able to remain in the role of the comforter and actually, no matter how it might inconvenience us, it is a lot better than having to be the one comforted. But should you ever end up needing to be on your own front line, I hope I can also be there for you.
      You were right there for me with food from Mother’s and comforting me any way you could and I will never forget that.
      love you
      Anne

      • Lori says:

        Annie….truly, it was the very least I could do to repay you for all you have given me. Your love, guidance (spiritual and otherwise) and tough love are always welcomed and appreciated…..my life has become better by having you in it….. <3

  2. Patricia Kolstad says:

    Annie . . you are one of the strongest women I know, and one that I am grateful to call a friend. You are such a blessing to so many out there who are struggling watching their loved one “live” with cancer. I see you, hear you, read you, and know that your are on a very healthy journey of grieving. Your words are therapeutic, filled with love, caring and hope. Even when the days were darkest, your strength and your trust in the Lord was evident, and brought to me a newfound knowledge that even though we are not in control of really anything, He is. Thank you for being vulnerable and so very truthful about the months, weeks and days with Lou. Your words help me understand the depth of your love.
    Pat

    • Anne Anderson Collins says:

      Oh, Pat. I don’t know how to judge strong, but glad you view me that way. I’ll bet if you were in the same situation, you would find your own strength.
      You were another that was right there, seeing what you could do, bringing or cooking something to make it easier for us. And I remember the day you came by with a coffee after Lou died and we talked. In the course of the conversation, you realized my brother and his wife were coming to the funeral and getting a hotel. Well you immediately said, get them on the phone and tell them they are staying with me. I was blown away by that and I will never forget it.
      At first they were reticent to accept, but they were glad they did in the end. You were so good to them.
      Nothing will ever make this ok, but remembering the love, care and support really helps a lot.
      Love
      Annie

  3. Amy says:

    Anne,
    Thank you for allowing us the insight to your experience. I can’t begin to even imagine how you felt in every moment as it happens, after it happens and wish you did things different. When you look back and wonder what if anything could you have done or should you have done if anything differently.
    I have to admit going thru it now myself it is quite a journey. Each day is a gift and I take nothing for granted. I talk with my dad as much as possible just to hear his voice because I know it won’t be forever. I don’t know what the rest of my journey holds but will take your story and hopefully do things a bit different making the best of each moment. You are truly a gift from God and I am better for knowing you.
    Love you,
    Amy

    • Anne Anderson Collins says:

      Amy,
      I think a lot about how it must be at your house about now. I only pray you do spend as much time as possible. One of the ways I pick at myself is every moment I wasted in any way away from his side, after we knew he had mere weeks, for any reason.
      If you can record his voice at all, do it. I have that and also a couple of videos, short but just for me. Totally precious.
      If you have any questions I might be able to help with, I am always here for you.
      Love
      Anne

  4. Jenn says:

    Great advice Anne, this will be so helpful to many families going through similar situations. Its just not something you can gather your thoughts quick enough to realize what to do when you are in the moment so reflecting back on that time is so helpful. Thank you for opening up and sharing your story even though it brings sadness, I hope you find some comfort in telling it. It really helps all of us gain a perspective we may have never encountered.

    • Anne Anderson Collins says:

      Thanks, Jenn. I have opened up and said how I was feeling a few times when I thought I might need a little extra understanding at that time. Also, I felt it might help people realize just how long one is affected by grief and loss. Sometimes I can’t believe it myself when I lose ground I felt I had gained.
      Some of the families we serve lose their loved one and within a few short weeks or months, lose a second.
      Mark faced this situation with his parents. Jon’s wife had two close losses time-wise. So they aren’t truly comfortable with the first and get hit again.
      We need that perspective to heighten our awareness, thereby doing a better job for others.
      Hugs
      Anne

  5. Fitz says:

    Anne,
    Great words of wisdom that not only apply to those dealing with terminal illness but just in everyday life; family, rest, faith, balance, love. You are an inspiration. Lou would deb so proud of how you are reaching out and helping others with your heartfelt words.
    Thank you for sharing,
    Fitz

    • Anne Anderson Collins says:

      Fitz
      Yes, balance is the key, letting family heal you, faith center you, rest restore you, love strengthen you.
      Thank you for reading.
      Anne

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