Relay for Life
Last Saturday night was our communities Relay for Life event. I was invited to give a speech about what it’s like to be care giver. This is the speech I gave.
I am honored and humbled to be invited to speak to you tonight about what it is like to be a care giver for someone with cancer.
My story begins in 1989. Many of you here tonight weren’t even born then, but for me it was a year I will never forget.
My mother, Shirley Demumbrum Bell, was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer in the spring of 1989. At the time she was diagnosed she was 50 years old. Colon cancer is one of the most curable kinds of cancer if it is caught early. Unfortunately, hers wasn’t. I remember the day we learned she had cancer as if it were yesterday. After the doctor left my mother’s hospital room I followed him down the hall and asked him to tell me how long he thought she had. Without batting an eye he said “one year at the most” and turned and walked away.
The last year of her life she taught me volumes about the importance of faith, family and friendship.
Momma died on July 26, 1990. One of the last things she asked me before she died was to take care of her mother and to buy my father some new clothes in the fall and the spring because he hated to shop. Even at the end of her life she was still thinking of others.
The first year after her death was almost as hard as the year before. For a long time all I could remember was the sickness. Even my dreams were nightmares. But gradually over time the horror faded away and now this is what I remember about my year as a care giver.
I remember my mother’s courage and strength, her ability to find humor in life even when she was suffering. Her happiest days were the ones spent with my children, laughing and playing with them.
I remember how my family rallied around my mother and how my dad, my husband Bill, my brother Robert and sister-in-law Kelly, all became caregivers alongside me, even though their hearts were breaking too.
I remember my mom’s friends coming to visit, especially her best friend Anita Smith, and how important those visits were.
I remember my children, who were very young at the time, asking questions about their Grandma Shirley that never failed to put an ache in my heart and a lump in my throat.
I remember spending hours in prayer and struggling with the knowledge that whatever God decided, I would have to accept.
I remember the kindness of every doctor, nurse and hospice volunteer who offered help and comfort. I especially remember the ones who cried with me, prayed with me and those who offered hope, because like my tee shirt says. There really is no place like hope.
I remember being so tired and weary that I thought there was no way I could get up again the next day and do it all over again, but with my families help and the grace of God, I did. Because that’s what families do. When you think you can’t go on, they take your hand, help you up and walk beside you.
After my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer she would joke and say, “Leave it up to me to come up with something as unglamorous as colon cancer.”
I knew what she meant. Having colon trouble isn’t glamorous. For many years colon cancer just wasn’t discussed. Truthfully, all cancer is ugly and when it comes to cancer we have to talk about it, no matter what part of our bodies it affects. Since my mom’s diagnosis in 1989 the incidence of colon cancer has dropped largely due to greater awareness, better testing methods and screenings for those with a family history.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimate is that there will be 103,170 new cases of colon cancer in the United States this year.
And that’s only for colon cancer. Since 1989 I have lost a brother in law to lung cancer and have had so many friends diagnosed with breast cancer that I make it a personal mission to call each of them and hound them until they have their yearly mammogram. My cousin Martha is a 3 time breast cancer survivor and while she lives too far away for me to be a caregiver for her, I am definitely one of her biggest prayer-givers.
Every person here tonight is a caregiver for someone and we can all help each other by making sure those we love take care of themselves. Colonoscopies and other cancer screenings may not be pleasant but neither is cancer. You have heard this a hundred times but I’m going to remind you again–Early detection saves lives. Make your loved ones go to the doctor if they have symptoms or a history of cancer in their family. Health care is expensive but it’s like having birthdays, when you consider the alternative it’s worth it.
Finally, in closing I would like to thank you again for inviting me to speak and leave you with a quote from someone who experienced firsthand what a difference a caregiver can make, Helen Keller.
Helen said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Friends, together we can remind each other to get those screenings and tests that save lives. We can speak up for those who don’t have health care and help them find ways to get treatment. We can support those in our community who have cancer by extending the hand of friendship and donating our time, our money and our talents to organizations like the American Cancer Society. We can be prayer-givers, caregivers and encouragers to others.
Together we can help find a cure so that our children and grandchildren will only know “cancer” as a word in their history books.