A Caregiver's Perspective

Patience keeps caregiver on the right path

Leila Smith, a former physical education teacher, stood by her husband’s side through his prostate cancer journey. While the diagnosis was a stunner – particularly for her – she learned the importance of caregiving and how an experience like cancer can strengthen a marriage.

My husband Jim and I have had 44 years of great marriage. We’ve both been very healthy with little sickness. We keep active and enjoy our normal life. So when all of a sudden a bombshell like cancer drops on you, it’s a shock.

But that’s when I knew I had to sit back and get some perspective. I took a deep breath and said, “OK, this is happening. There’s nothing I can do right now but be patient and not panic.” I knew I wanted to be there for Jim to support him all the way.

Jim had gone for his annual physical, and his doctor told him his PSA was high. I know a little about health because I had taught P.E. and Health, but I wasn’t sure what this news meant. Jim was very calm and said they were going to put him on medication and see if it helped. It didn’t; I was not as calm.

Later, they diagnosed him with prostate cancer, which was a shock for me. I was in a state of panic. We met with the urologist, however, and when he wasn’t panicked, that helped. He told us that if you have to have cancer, prostate is one of the best because it’s often slow-growing. It also makes you feel better when you talk to the doctor and he gives you moral support.

He gave Jim all the options, and I told Jim that whatever he decided, I was backing him 100 percent. Then he had an MRI, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because they found the cysts on the kidneys—and that became more crucial than the prostate.

It was another shocker. What’s going to happen next? The first thing I thought was, “Let’s do something right now.” But we had travel plans and were helping with the Tour of California cycling race. I told him we could cancel anything in a New York minute if we needed to, but the doctor assured me it wasn’t going to make any difference if we waited another month or two. It probably all worked out for the best, as it would have been hard to sit home twiddling our thumbs.

We had started with one urology center, but things were not going right, so we wanted a second opinion for the prostate. It was very awkward, but when you’re not happy with something, you have to do what you have to do.

Getting a third opinion was very helpful. We were both in limbo about which direction Jim should take. He was leaning toward surgery, and when the third doctor confirmed our choice, it put us both more at ease.

We were very fortunate that Jim’s cancers were detected early and his recovery was easier than most. He was a great patient and the worst part was the two weeks that he needed the catheter. I tried to be available but also just stay out of his way because he was the one who had to live with it.

As a caregiver, I learned that I had to try and take care of myself, too. You can’t do it 24/7 or you won’t be a good caregiver. I knew I just needed to have a positive attitude and to have patience, patience, patience.

When you’re as close as we are, you realize that you may have been taking things for granted. When cancer hits you, it makes you think a little more and you both toughen up and get through it. The challenge has made us even closer, and I think that as you go through something like this together with each other and your family, it can really make your marriage even stronger.

Click here to read Jim's story.