At the age of 49, I believed I could achieve just about anything if I really set my mind to it.
An optimist by nature, I was used to tackling things head-on and credited myself with being able to resolve any problem that came my way.
Shortly before my 50th birthday, that outlook dramatically changed when doctors diagnosed my husband, Brian, with pleural mesothelioma. His less than one-year prognosis shocked me to the core and threw my normally ordered brain into a tailspin. For the first time in my adult life, I was up against something I could not control, and it made me feel helpless.
But I didn’t feel helpless for long. Brian needed me, and I was determined to help him in every way I possibly could. After promising him that he wouldn’t spend the rest of his life in a hospital or die there, I launched myself into a caregiving journey that lasted two years.
I learned a lot about life and death during this time. I also learned something about myself: I was a survivor.
That revelation helped me remain strong for Brian until the moment of his death. It ultimately helped me find the one thing that would bring new meaning to my life — helping others.
Caregiving taught me how to express more compassion, be more spiritual and grateful for the everyday things in my life, as well as appreciating the real values in life.
Increased My Sense of Compassion
When I accompanied Brian to the doctor and chemotherapy treatments, I learned of the large numbers of people dealing with serious illnesses and death. While it didn’t diminish the emotional pain I was experiencing at the time, it made me aware that I was not alone in my suffering.
Prior to Brian’s illness, I never would have approached a complete stranger and given them a hug. But that’s exactly what I did when I came up to a distraught woman standing at the open door of a hospital room near the area where Brian was undergoing cancer treatment.
Judging from the nurse’s activity in the room, the person on the bed was dying.
I immediately connected the woman’s anguish with my own grief over Brian’s impending death. I went to her and gave her a hug. She did not resist. Sensing that I understood her feelings, she leaned against me and burst into tears.
When she recovered, she told me the person in the bed was her son and that he was dying of brain cancer. I never learned this woman’s name or why she was alone at such a tragic time, but I am glad I was there to comfort her in her time of need.
Learning to Be Less Judgmental
Before Brian became ill, I often felt slighted when I smiled at someone and they didn’t return the friendly gesture. Believing they had done this deliberately, I would judge them to be rude and downright unfriendly.
But I’ve stopped judging people so quickly. Knowing how I felt when I was caregiving for Brian, I understand there could be a number of reasons why a person is reluctant to smile, and none of them has anything to do with me. For all I know, they may be caregiving for a loved one with cancer, too, or dealing with another form of tragedy in their lives.
I now offer my smiles freely without expecting anything in return.
Appreciating the True Value in Life
When I learned that Brian was going to die in less than a year, I realized the only thing that really mattered was our love for each other. The possessions we had gathered during the 32 years of our marriage no longer held any value. Neither did the amount of money we had saved. All the money in the world couldn’t have saved Brian’s life.
As our time together drew to an end, all I wanted was to see Brian’s cheeky grin, feel the touch of his hand in mine and hear the sound of his voice when he told me he loved me. These were the real treasures in my life and I couldn’t get enough of them.
Became a More Spiritual Person
During the two years I cared for Brian before his death, there were many times when I would close my eyes and ask for strength to carry on. Although I didn’t feel I was praying at these times, I now believe I was and that my prayers were answered.
How else could I have found the strength I needed so badly?
More Passionate About Asbestos Awareness
After witnessing the devastating and deadly effects that asbestos and mesothelioma had on Brian, I began spreading the word about how the toxic mineral still can be found in many homes and other buildings in Australia and worldwide.
I am also more perceptive about the ignorance and complacency among the general public concerning asbestos and the threat it poses to the health of anyone exposed to its deadly fibers.
Whenever I get the opportunity, I warn people about the dangers of asbestos exposure and urge them not to attempt home renovations without first contacting an accredited asbestos detection and disposal team. These professionals can analyze building materials and determine if asbestos is present in a home, shed or fencing.
I also speak publicly about asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases.
Grateful for Every Day of My Life
Brian’s illness and death from mesothelioma at the age of 54 taught me that no matter what our age, we should never take life for granted.
This most precious gift can be taken from us at any time and without warning. For this reason, I now grab whatever life has to offer me, with both hands, and I rarely put off for tomorrow what I can do today.