Cancer is a Journey for Both the Patient and the Caregiver

Lorraine & Brian Kember

When cancer strikes someone we love, we are flung into an entirely different reality, one that we have been aware of but have never before experienced: The world of the sick and dying.

It’s a world of physical and emotional pain, hospital corridors, hospital beds and chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A realm where it doesn’t no matter who we are because we are no different than those who are around us.

It is a grim reality and a frightening world, and it is only when we cross over into this world that we become aware of how precious life really is.

Depending on the length of our life and the trials and tribulations that befall us, it is likely that we will experience being a caregiver and eventually being taken care of by a loved one in our lifetime.

This could be due to any number of reasons, including short-time illness or advanced age. Tragically, it could also be due to cancer. The high incidence of this disease around the world means many families will be affected by it. And as a result, many people are now caring for loved ones with cancer.

Becoming a Caregiver

Many people who are caring for a loved one with cancer do not think of themselves as caregivers; they are just looking after the one they love and doing the very best that they can.

This was true of me when my husband, Brian, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. Though he had cancer, I did not think of him as a cancer patient, nor did I think of myself as his caregiver. As I carried out the things that were necessary for his well-being, I saw myself as none other than a loving wife living out the vows I had pledged to my husband on our wedding day:

“To love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

Irrespective of whether we see ourselves as caregivers, when we are living with someone who can no longer care for themselves, we are, in every sense of the word, a caregiver. The transition into this role can be difficult, especially due to the responsibilities that come along with it.

Responsibilities of Caring for a Loved One

  • Accompanying them to doctors appointments and to chemotherapy or radiation treatments
  • Helping them to make decisions about available treatments
  • Helping them to manage their pain and symptoms
  • Administrating medication
  • Assisting them in the bathroom
  • Helping them in and out of bed
  • Helping them in and out of a wheelchair
  • Helping them in and out of the car
  • Making special meals
  • Providing emotional support
  • Running the home
  • Taking over the financial management of the household

On top of the responsibilities mentioned above, there can be any number of things that need to be done while caring for a loved one with cancer, and it may become necessary to ask for some assistance.

Cancer is a Journey

Many cancer patients refer to their illness as a journey. The same could be said of those who are caring for a loved one with terminal cancer. In many ways, this journey is one of discovery, for it is only in times of tragedy that we become aware of our inner strength. And it is through this that we are able to rise above our grief and support our loved ones in their time of need.

Being needed is a reward in itself and we discover that it is a privilege to walk beside a loved one as they journey to the end of their life.

Living in expectation of my husband Brian’s death for the two years of his survival, was a torture beyond compare but along the way, I did find things to be grateful for and I always wrote these things into my diary so that I could focus on something positive.

Things I Am Grateful For

I cared for Brian at home.

This meant the world to Brian, to me and to our three children. Our home was never the house of the dying.  It was full of life and Brian was very much a part of it. Despite his illness, he remained active and alert and was not bed bound until three short days prior to his death.

I kept Brian out of pain.

Through the knowledge I acquired on the internet, I was able to put together a pain and symptom management routine that kept Brian’s pain and symptoms under control and dramatically improved the quality of his life.

I found the courage to carry on.

Thanks to positive thinking and my diary, I found the courage to carry on and to remain strong for Brian even on my darkest days.

I kept my two promises to Brian.

Upon Brian’s diagnosis, I had made him two promises.

1. He would not suffer unnecessary pain.

2. He would not die in the hospital.

Brian passed peacefully away in our home surrounded by all of his loved ones.

I found peace and strength.

The journey of grief often includes feelings of guilt and remorse over what could have been said or what could have been done. I am grateful that there were no such feelings for me.

I could not have said or done more for the man I loved as he traveled to the end of his life, and it is because of this that I have found the peace and the strength to go on with my life.


Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net

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