Elephants And Tea - September 2021 - 18

Caregiving PARTNERSHIP
Andrew's cancer diagnosis had shaken me and awakened me to life's fragility. For a while,
every life moment we shared together seemed like I was collecting memories for safe keeping.
Packing them away neatly so they could last me a lifetime in case our lifetime together
was cut short. I found myself secretly taking pictures of his hands, his feet, his tattoos. If I
eventually lost him, I wanted to be able to look back and remember the shape of his hands
or the lines on his face when he smiled. I was struggling, but I was supposed to be the strong
one, the caretaker.
For years, the fear of his cancer returning was always present, but not always at the forefront of
our minds. Sometimes it was hidden so far in the back it seemed like we had finally lost it, only
to have it surface once again. There was a constant tension between attempting to move forward
and being tethered to the past, haunted by his leukemia. Because we had no peers going through
the same thing, we didn't have words or context for what we were experiencing.
In 2006, the same year we got married, Andrew founded the Dear Jack Foundation. It was
designed to focus on adolescent and young adult cancer patients and survivors. Throughout his
diagnosis, treatment, and early recovery we realized how little was really known about meeting
the physical and emotional needs of cancer patients in this age bracket. He wanted to help make
it better. The Dear Jack Foundation would continue to grow in the following years, adding our
first signature program called the LifeList. To this day, the LifeList continues to grant wishes
to adolescent and young adult cancer patients who have received a life-threatening diagnosis,
wishes that give them something positive to focus on outside of their treatments, something to
look forward to.
Through the Dear Jack Foundation, Andrew and I had the opportunity to meet other young
adult cancer survivors and their partners. In our conversations, Andrew and I started seeing
some common themes within their survivorship experiences and ours. For the first time, we
did not feel alone.
It took us far too long to seek help and guidance from a therapist-six years after his stemcell
transplant. Our therapist was able to give us context for our experience with Andrew's early
survivorship. Through our work with her, Andrew learned to unpack the trauma of his sickness
and manage the emotional repercussions of it.
Having some of the burden of caretaking and healing off my shoulders allowed me to finally
face my own anxieties around Andrew's sickness. In our therapist's office, I learned how right
those early doctors had been, the ones unable to distinguish which one of us was sick. I had spent
so many years with Andrew navigating the tumultuous seas of his early survivorship, we had
become sick together. It took time and intention to untangle it all.
Once we had enough perspective on Andrew's early survivorship, I realized how sad and angry
I felt over how long it took for us to get the tools we needed to heal. We couldn't change our
past, but we could help others, so we created a new program within the Dear Jack Foundation
called Breathe Now.
Since 2017, the Breathe Now program has welcomed small groups of young adult cancer survivors
and their partners, who are one to three years removed from their last date of treatment, on
a four-day wellness retreat. In this uniquely designed experience, couples are offered opportunities
to bring balance back to their relationship with the help of psychosocial break-out sessions
and the introduction to healing tools and experiences such as yoga and meditation. Participants
are given information to help them cope with the complexities of adolescent and young adult
survivorship, and the chance to create bonds with peers who have shared a similar experience.
In so many ways, it is what I wish Andrew and I had. It has been incredibly healing to be able to
provide this experience to others.
Andrew and I continued to heal together over the years through therapy, the practice of yoga,
meditation and mindfulness, and the support of our friends and family. However, there were
still times when the ghost of his sickness came back to haunt us. There may still be times ahead.
I don't expect that will ever change, but I do think it will become less frequent.
Yet, sixteen years later we have a life I wouldn't have allowed myself to dream of back in that
hospital bed in 2005. Sixteen years of memories, sixteen years of life together. I no longer collect
memories like a living scrapbook of someone I might one day lose. We are finally living the life
that was so graciously spared. We now have a seven-year-old daughter. She grounds us in the present
and has us looking forward into the future these days instead of feeling haunted by the past.
18
ELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM
SEPTEMBER 2021
We are getting older now. We both have
some lines on our face and some gray in our
hair. I recently realized how I never fully
allowed myself to imagine us growing old
together. It seemed like too much to hope for
back then. I am allowing myself to picture it
now. Of course, there is no guarantee of how
long we have together, but there is no guarantee
for anyone.
After everything we have been through, we
feel alive and well. I have learned people can
recover from things that seemed impossible to
recover from. Somehow, we have found a way
to live with hope, joy, and courage when at
times surrendering into despair seemed like a
real option. I am so grateful for the people and
the practices that got us through the toughest
moments. To be able to live through it all - the
good and the bad, the sickness and the health
- to accept it all as a part of our life has been
our path to living our best life. l
" It took us far too
long to seek help
and guidance from
a therapist... Our
therapist was able
to give us context
for our experience
with Andrew's early
survivorship. "
http://www.ELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM

Elephants And Tea - September 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Elephants And Tea - September 2021

Contents
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