Being a caregiver is a noble endeavor, but for those taking care of a loved one with cancer, it is not altruism that motivates them, it is love.

My grandmother was my grandfather’s caregiver when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. She took him to every appointment, every treatment and every checkup after he went into remission. But then the cancer came back. Grandmother cared for him as long as she could, but she was older and it eventually became more than she could handle on her own. The nurses that came into their home to help were a blessing.

Grandmother was more than a caretaker of just my grandfather, she also was a fierce protector of his legacy. I didn’t see him in his final months and that was a deliberate choice on their part. They wanted us to remember him as he was in his prime – the robust, gruff business leader, owner of his own oil distributorship – sometimes taciturn, but always proud of his grandchildren. I am not saying that is the right choice for everyone facing terminal cancer – that is an intensely personal decision – but I think it was for him. My memories are not of a frail, sick man. They are of Granddaddy sitting at his desk, surrounded by University of Alabama memorabilia and a huge photo of him and my grandmother at a World War II Army Air Corps reunion. I always liked that picture. It was proof that my granddaddy was a hero.

After he passed, I thought that my grandmother would feel some relief mixed in with the sadness. After all, he was not in pain anymore and the weight that comes with caregiving had lifted. But it does not always work that way. She had lost her purpose. Grandmother had taken care of her husband for so long – much longer than the illness, she had taken care of him for their entire marriage – and she no longer knew what to do with herself. I think when you are a caregiver, you get used to the daily work – it is hard, grueling and often overwhelming. But you always find a way to do what needs to be done. Because you love them.

In 2017, more than 1.6 million people in the United States received a new cancer diagnosis. Because of advancements in medicine, patients are living longer now and more people are undergoing treatment while remaining in their homes, versus hospitalization. However, those treatments have a high cost, both emotionally and financially. Caregiving is the most noble of endeavors – one that doesn’t come with a medal, but rather a stack of medical bills.

I pray that Marc and I never find ourselves in my grandparents’ shoes, but if we do, I am thankful that I have their footsteps to follow. And I know they will guide me down the path.

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