Caregiving isn’t for wimps

I wrote the following post two and a half months ago… shortly before my mom died of Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. I decided to share this here. My experiences are not that uncommon, but many people with aging parents have no clue as to what to expect. I gave almost daily posts on my Facebook page, but this is some of what I went through. If it helps anyone out there, I’m glad for that.

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Mary Repetski - Santa Barbara Greeting CardsI guess I knew caregiving was tough, but not to the extent I do now. It’s intense. Especially caring for someone who is in their last few weeks of life… who just happens to be your mom and your best friend.

I’ve been learning a lot about caregiving since I came up to Grass Valley from Santa Barbara to see my mom. She has Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. This particular type of cancer usually goes undetected until it has ravaged the body. There are a few signs, but most people have no idea they have cancer until it’s too late. Such was the case with my mom.

Mom’s not a complainer. She didn’t let on to any of the family members just how sick she was. I had been in contact with her over the phone and knew she hadn’t been keeping much food down for awhile. But nothing prepared me for how she looked the evening I got here. At that point she looked like she was almost at death’s door. She was very weak, couldn’t keep anything down and her body wasn’t getting rid of waste as it should have been. It really scared me. She looked like my grandfather (her dad) not long before he died.

I started trying to nurse her back to some semblance of health, but with the fluid that this type of cancer produces, it put pressure on her stomach and she had no appetite. She would force down a bite or two of whatever I made her. She mainly requested comfort food. She would keep egg and wet toast down for breakfast normally… that was something her grandmother made and Mom prepared it herself. She requested chicken and dumplings for Mothers Day. I also made minestrone and other things that I thought she would be able to digest easily.

I tried getting in contact with her doctor’s office, since she requested hospice as opposed to chemotherapy. They had been sitting on the paperwork for weeks. But the next morning, I ended up taking her to the ER. She was dehydrated and malnourished, and getting weaker all the time. The doctor we saw was excellent and managed to get hospice on the phone and a nurse over to the ER within half an hour. He also told us there was no point in seeing the gynecologist/oncologist she had an appointment with, since the only thing they would advise her to do was chemotherapy.

So we went home and waited for our first visits from hospice. Thus began my education in caring for a dying patient. There was much to learn. I was thrown into administering a world of medications I couldn’t pronounce, learning how to lift a weak patient, positioning and rotating pillows to keep the skin from breaking down… too many things to mention here. I hope my back holds up.

But one thing I was really grateful for was that I brought her more of my skin care products for Mothers Day. This experience made me realize that this was a primary purpose for me creating these nourishing products. I started giving my mom hand and arm massages, as well as her legs and feet. She would usually fall asleep by the time I finished. One of the things that this stage of cancer brings on is anxiety, so it was really important to make her feel comfortable and at ease. I was also helping her take showers, sitting on a chair hospice had delivered, and using my rich, creamy soaps to moisturize and condition her skin. She’s not able to get out of bed for a shower now, but she enjoyed that while it lasted and it made her feel so much better. I gave her a pedicure, soaking her feet in some of my bath salts, then used some of the scrubs to slough off dead skin. I sanded down her callouses, cut her nails, rubbed on some whipped body butter, and she loved the way her feet felt afterward.

Then I noticed how my body had started showing the wear and tear of neglect being so busy helping my mom. Today, I made sure to set aside some time between administering meds and changing my mama to take a shower and pamper myself with the creamy soap and scrubs I’ve been using on her. I felt like a new person afterward. It felt that good.

Caregiving for my mom has probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s been some comfort to be able to nourish her body, to take care of her, and just be with her through this horrible ordeal. She fought me coming up, saying I had too much going on, but there’s no place I’d rather be. I think we both needed to share this experience. She’s the most loving, generous, sweet, fun-loving mom a girl could ever ask for. She’s always been my best friend, so this will be a huge adjustment for me, but I’m glad she’s not having to suffer much longer. There’s so much love surrounding her and she feels ready to go. I even told her the nurse said she’s close and she gave me a thumbs up.

What a journey…

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