What Helps When You’re on the Front Line? | A Cancer Journey

 

This is Part III of my story, to read Part I, or Part II, click here.

{ my husband Lou was diagnosed with cancer and given months to live. this is what happened to both of us as his life drew to an end. the people that touched me were angels and not many people read this part of the story. if you know someone on the front lines like i was, here’s what you can do to help }

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ajt

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ajt

It was amazing to us how quickly Lou lost basic strength and the ability to just handle any of the normal routines.  He was having difficulty navigating the stairs to our bedroom, but insisted on remaining there, though hospice had an open bed order.

There was a huge DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) sheet on display in the house.  We were told if anything occurred we must call Hospice, not 9-1-1. That came into play quickly in the middle of the night when Lou fell in the bathroom and couldn’t get up.  I was next to no help.  It took us over an hour to get him into bed and nearly injured both of us.  This was so distressing.  Hospice was unavailable and we were temporarily on our own. It was so frightening.

We both realized the hospital bed was now inevitable.  We placed the order.

The will to do and be Lou’s “everything” was so strong in me.  I did not look in the mirror and see what it was doing to me.  Even if I had, I did not care.

 

Here are some of the sweet things that really helped me walk through this.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/aurorat

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/aurorat

*We maintained daily devotions and prayer together.

Taken a little out of context, but comforting still the same, I read Psalm 107:6-10 to us every day.  It became our conscious choice to praise the Lord for the circumstance in which we found ourselves. We also read from sheets of scriptures on healing promises, here are a few of the ones we went to often: James 5:14, Jeremiah 17:14, & Isaiah 53:5.

*Family Support:  Our daughter April worked it out to be there for part of most days.  Just having the support and her cheerful personality perked Lou up greatly and me, too, not to mention her fabulous cooking.

*I identified a core group of friends and family who were standing with us and maintained contact. I did this through Facebook and group emails. One sister-in-law checked in weekly and I took the time to be specific in my response covering the previous week and current prayer requests. She passed it on to the rest of the family.

*I accepted visitors, meals, and any other helps that were offered.  It is amazing how much my work, Rotary, friends, church and close neighbors wanted to provide meals.  I was so thankful and encouraged!  My favorite was chicken soup. Lou was able to sample most everything.  Those visits strengthened and uplifted both of us greatly.  Our most frequent visitor was our pastor, Mike Bayer.

d2f2c50f5717530b2fe299ae3ffb10e1*Music became even more important than usual.  I identified with certain song lyrics and a couple really “got me through” tough moments.  Sara MacLachlin’s “Answer” (If it takes a lifetime, I won’t break, I won’t bend”  ran through my brain during all the tough times.)  And Twila Paris’ “Fix your Eyes on Jesus” was another mantra:  “Following Close behind, Following, ever blinded to the things that “should” not move me…Fix your eyes on Jesus” (not on what was quickly happening right before my eyes!)  We also had quiet, but uplifting music playing most of the time.

*Taking breaks.  Boy that was a tough one.  I didn’t want to be out of Lou’s presence.  And believe me, he didn’t want me out of the room.  But it became important to leave for short periods, even it was to rush to the pharmacy and wait for drug refills, or walk around the block.  Once Lou was in a coma, I even went to Dana Point the morning of his birthday.  Angela and I walked the harbor with the dogs and sat on our bench and watched the waves in his honor.  Bella, his Bernese Mountain dog knew right where she was. She jumped up and sat on the bench,  nuzzled us and watched the water quietly for nearly an hour.  It was a healing time.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bitterfly

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bitterfly

*Getting enough rest myself.  That never happened.  Looking back, I should have found some way to make sure it did.  If you find yourself in this situation, insist on it, for your own health and for your sanity.

*Actually fitting myself into Lou’s hospital bed with him.  I really wish I had done this more, in retrospect.  We did it a few times and those have become precious memories.  If I had it to do over, I would have personally rented a larger bed.  Being in a separate rollaway right next to him just didn’t do it.

Everyone’s journey is different.  Some cancers are actually beatable.  Some aren’t, but come on so slowly and gradually that everyday life and even the ability to continue working is possible.  Our situation was totally the opposite.  The trip to total incapacity was extremely fast.

But whatever you may be experiencing and at whatever level, I believe these points may help you, too.

|| what about you?

Have you been through a similar struggle?

What helped you?

What do you wish you would have done differently?

Anne

About Anne

The youngest of 8, I was born in a tiny town in the Keeweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan in the late 40’s. My minister parents died 6 months apart around the time of my 5th birthday. My older siblings raised us in the family home until all were graduated except me. Gradually only the boys remained, so at the age of 10 I moved to other homes. My childhood was rich with experiences that sparked my young imagination. When I finally read the Anne of Green Gables series, I totally identified with Anne.
I have just celebrated my 46th anniversary with my dear husband, Lou. Our daughter, April, 4 grandchildren and one great granddaughter bring our family a lot of joy and reasons to be thankful.
I have worked at O’Connor Mortuary since 1996 where I handle the accounting. The Mortuary has become extended family and it is a source of satisfaction as a job I thoroughly enjoy.
We attend the Village Church and that is another wonderful extended family, one who not only worships and learns together, but loves and prays for one another at the drop of a hat.

We live in a retirement community and enjoy taking our two dogs, a Bernese Mountain Dog and little Cocker Spaniel, to Dana Point Harbor for Sunday jaunts.

I absolutely love participating in the Mortuary Blog. I have found my voice! Thanks for following me.

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  • Mark

    Anne…..Once again thank you for sharing insights from your personal journey…..I am sure your helpful hints will prove be helpful to people….I especially like that you reminded us of how important it is for the caregiver to take breaks….even a walk around the block….Just keep reminding yourself that the tough times you went through will be used to help someone else greatly….Mark

    • Anne

      Mark,
      It has to be shared. I have to believe there are some parts to every segment that will resonate, comfort, or guide another and perhaps make things easier for them.
      That’s what we do, isn’t it?
      Hugs,
      Annie

  • Anne,
    I think your perspective is so unique and so special. Unless you go through something like this there is just no way of knowing what your side of the experience is like. The activities that you and Lou kept together are so simple yet SO worthy of the time you had together. Thank you for sharing this intimate part of your journey with him & for being vulnerable as you share with us about what creating meaningful time together looks like.

    I admire you so much & love you more,

    Molly

    • Anne

      Molly,
      Thank you for your work to spearhead this blog and make it so visible to so many. I have to believe that many people with a similar journey will read this and be helped by it.

      I forgot to tell you! I just got a new friend request on Facebook. I messaged her: “How do I know you?” Turns out someone had sent her my first segment of this sequence about Lou’s and my cancer journey “Earthquake” because she had just lost her own husband and the friend thought she should read it. So, you just never know how our readership grows or who is being helped out there. I was amazed and humbled and have made a new friend. We are now messaging and comforting each other.
      Love you back,
      Anne

      • Anne, what a testimony to the power of putting yourself out there. Your courageous sharing has made it possible for new relationship, camaraderie, and as you said, mutual comfort. I am so blessed by your story & share with you praise for God’s ways & goodness. These graces are so beautiful.
        Thank you for sharing what you do, for being a beacon for others, and for putting it out there that we aren’t alone in grief.

        love you,
        Molly

        • Anne

          Really was a cool thing. No we are not alone.
          hugs, Anne

  • neil

    Hi Anne –

    I am still very touched by the love and care you have given Lou! This was probably your biggest challenge in your life and one of the biggest heartaches that you will ever have to live with. You have learned so many difficult lessons in such a short time. As I look back I admire the commitment and love you and Lou have shared, you are great role models for all of us. I see ever single lesson you listed as a lesson you can take forward with you, asking for help, circling your self with a core group of people, accepting gifts and contributions form others like it or not, enjoying music and looking for therapy, rest and rejuvenation, creating precious memories, because in the end that is all we have other than our faith.

    • Anne

      Wow, Neil,
      You are so right and you pulled it right out of what I wrote. We all need help now and then. We need community, to reach out and love and be loved, letting people give to us as they see a need and being humble, thankful recipients, letting music speak to us and heal us, seeking ways to soothe our spirit and being healthy and getting our rest. We have to continue to make every moment count. And seeking to please our Maker through it all. Aren’t we both just so profound!!
      Thank you!

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Anne,
    Your written words are so soothing; I always feel a sense of calm as I read your blogs. You have given us such important tips to survive being on the “front line.” You are an inspiration and I know your words will touch so many going through what you experienced last year. I admire your strong faith and your conscience effort to count your blessings even as you were going through the very worst moments of your life. I sometimes find that I need to force myself to focus on the good because I am so angry about the bad that has been dealt to our family. Thank you for sharing your intimate and personal journey – by doing so you are helping those of us on our own grief journeys.
    Becky

    • Anne

      Becky,
      I often feel so cheated by death. Now that is total, true honesty.
      But in trying to understand how I came to what I did as I went through my journey, I am realizing that what some call strength or courage or survival is nothing more than making continual conscious (and sometime unconscious CHOICES… choosing to fix my eyes on Jesus and not on the horrible circumstances, choosing to keep giving and believing and not give up, choosing to get up and take care of the concern instantly even though I barely laid down again and barely started to fall into relaxation and this has been happening every 10-15 mins for perhaps the past 8 hours. And remember, I am not a nurse. I am not a caregiver and I didn’t know what I was doing. That is when you say to yourself: If it takes my whole life, I won’t break, I won’t bend.
      Now in retrospect, there isn’t much I could change. I would like to think I would have never gotten short and would have stayed constant and always patient, but I broke, too. I came to the end of myself a few times, and I hate to remember it, but that was totally human. The situation was inhuman, being handled by little more than love and sheer will.
      So, if you are angry sometimes, give yourself some slack. You had no control and no chance to wrap yourself around your situation before you were just dealt the hand.
      I hope I help you. I hope I help many…not just with the blog itself but with these followup conversations.
      Hugs,
      Anne

  • Carrie Bayer

    Dear Anne, thank you for continuing to write about your journey with cancer. It is so inspiring to read how you were able to juggle everything, keep Lou at the center of your love & attention- I feel blessed to have witnessed some of this first hand. Your strength is amazing & I admire you so much. Thank you, I love you. XOXOX Carrie

    • Anne

      Carrie
      I know I don’t deserve too much praise for the juggling but I sure never, never planned to give up or give in.
      I don’t think you would either.
      Love
      Anne

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Annie,
    Thank you so much for opening up and sharing with us this very personal journey. Lou was a lucky man to have such a loving and caring wife and partner along side him during those tough times. I know you did everything in your power to make his last days as comfortable and fulfilling as possible. I know you also felt lucky to have such a wonderful caring man as your husband and partner. I remember when Jeff asked Lou, “Lou, what is it that I/we can do for you or pray for you right now? With out hesitation in a very shallow whispery voice, “I just want Annie to be taken care of when I’m gone”
    I know this blog will be a benefit to many, great ideas and hints to help those that have to travel a similar path.
    Love,

    Chuck

    • Anne

      Chuck,
      I know whatever I gave Lou in his last months was nothing less than he totally deserved. He gave selflessly to me our whole married years. I mean, he bought pretty much whatever toys he wanted to the extent our earning could support it, but he also tried to get me to do the same. I know I shall be taken care of, one way or another. That touched me, too, when I heard him say that. Always, putting me first and wanting to know I would be ok. Still makes me cry when I think about that. I was sure blessed.
      I think of that when I see couples still intact that I interact with. I hurt when I see them not getting along or being selfish. I think, oh boy, don’t do that. Life is too short. Treasure what you have. Does it really matter who is right, in light of eternity? No matter how long you have together, it is too short to have any regrets. And most regrets are within our power to control.
      Love,
      Annie

  • Tom

    Persistence is my guiding strength to drive through the the complexities of life. And, support, like you had, is of similar value to help keep me motivated.

    • Anne

      Nothing like support to make one feel “not alone” in life, is there? Thanks for reading, Tom
      Anne

  • Mike Bayer

    What a blessing you are Anne. What an encouragement to others. Keep writing, loving and sharing.

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Thanks Pastor Mike
      Doing my best to do just that. Thanks for taking time to read it and comment.
      Love
      Anne

  • Sharon Watkins

    Anne
    As hard as this is to write about – I believe that you going to be glad you did in the long term. Many of the details will fade over time (many will not) and to be writing of how you are feeling now will be helpful in your grief recovery.
    Thank you for being my special friend. I’m so glad I get to take a part of you with me to Illinois. My Annie Highlander will take good care of me I know!
    Stay in touch…..
    Much love and support….Sharon

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Sharon
      You have become such a dear friend. We share many things that bind us. You have my car to comfort you. I have your sectional to remind me to think of you and pray for you in your venture.

      I sure hope you are right. Friends ask me why are you still writing about this when each time tears you up so much and sets you back so far each time. I don’t know the answer to that. I just know I have to complete what I started. Maybe part of it is to create the document so I will have it to go back to later. I do know I am here to help others. Maybe I will need it to refresh my memory some time in the future parts of what I went through to really do that well.

      Anyway, you are still here, but I miss you already.

      Love
      Anne

  • Christopher Iverson

    Anne,
    Thank you for sharing your journey through love, loss and grief. You have guided me to a deeper understanding of the journey and process that the families we serve travel through after a death has occurred.
    Chris

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Chris,
      Guess we help in other in many more ways than the obvious.

      Thanks,

      Anne

  • Lori

    Anne,
    Thank you for your transparency and for sharing exactly what the before, during and after of losing Lou has looked like for you. I know it is hard for you to revisit this time. While part of you wants to “move on”, it is healthy for you to grieve Lou’s loss fully, even if it rips your heart out some days. I am glad I get to see you here at work, even if only for a hug. I don’t always have the right words, but hugs are always readily available.
    I have not had to go through the experience of watching anyone close to me deteriorate from cancer or any other horrific illness. I consider myself lucky in that respect, and I am certain my time is coming.
    Thank you for walking these steps before me so I know what to do to keep myself healthy while saying “goodbye” to somebody I love.

    Love you,
    Lori

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Lori
      It’s easy to assume we will always be able to remain in the role of the comforter and actually, no matter how it might inconvenience us, it is a lot better than having to be the one comforted. But should you ever end up needing to be on your own front line, I hope I can also be there for you.
      You were right there for me with food from Mother’s and comforting me any way you could and I will never forget that.
      love you
      Anne

      • Lori

        Annie….truly, it was the very least I could do to repay you for all you have given me. Your love, guidance (spiritual and otherwise) and tough love are always welcomed and appreciated…..my life has become better by having you in it….. <3

        • Anne Anderson Collins

          Ahhhh shucks. 🙂

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Annie . . you are one of the strongest women I know, and one that I am grateful to call a friend. You are such a blessing to so many out there who are struggling watching their loved one “live” with cancer. I see you, hear you, read you, and know that your are on a very healthy journey of grieving. Your words are therapeutic, filled with love, caring and hope. Even when the days were darkest, your strength and your trust in the Lord was evident, and brought to me a newfound knowledge that even though we are not in control of really anything, He is. Thank you for being vulnerable and so very truthful about the months, weeks and days with Lou. Your words help me understand the depth of your love.
    Pat

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Oh, Pat. I don’t know how to judge strong, but glad you view me that way. I’ll bet if you were in the same situation, you would find your own strength.
      You were another that was right there, seeing what you could do, bringing or cooking something to make it easier for us. And I remember the day you came by with a coffee after Lou died and we talked. In the course of the conversation, you realized my brother and his wife were coming to the funeral and getting a hotel. Well you immediately said, get them on the phone and tell them they are staying with me. I was blown away by that and I will never forget it.
      At first they were reticent to accept, but they were glad they did in the end. You were so good to them.
      Nothing will ever make this ok, but remembering the love, care and support really helps a lot.
      Love
      Annie

  • Amy

    Anne,
    Thank you for allowing us the insight to your experience. I can’t begin to even imagine how you felt in every moment as it happens, after it happens and wish you did things different. When you look back and wonder what if anything could you have done or should you have done if anything differently.
    I have to admit going thru it now myself it is quite a journey. Each day is a gift and I take nothing for granted. I talk with my dad as much as possible just to hear his voice because I know it won’t be forever. I don’t know what the rest of my journey holds but will take your story and hopefully do things a bit different making the best of each moment. You are truly a gift from God and I am better for knowing you.
    Love you,
    Amy

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Amy,
      I think a lot about how it must be at your house about now. I only pray you do spend as much time as possible. One of the ways I pick at myself is every moment I wasted in any way away from his side, after we knew he had mere weeks, for any reason.
      If you can record his voice at all, do it. I have that and also a couple of videos, short but just for me. Totally precious.
      If you have any questions I might be able to help with, I am always here for you.
      Love
      Anne

  • Jenn

    Great advice Anne, this will be so helpful to many families going through similar situations. Its just not something you can gather your thoughts quick enough to realize what to do when you are in the moment so reflecting back on that time is so helpful. Thank you for opening up and sharing your story even though it brings sadness, I hope you find some comfort in telling it. It really helps all of us gain a perspective we may have never encountered.

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Thanks, Jenn. I have opened up and said how I was feeling a few times when I thought I might need a little extra understanding at that time. Also, I felt it might help people realize just how long one is affected by grief and loss. Sometimes I can’t believe it myself when I lose ground I felt I had gained.
      Some of the families we serve lose their loved one and within a few short weeks or months, lose a second.
      Mark faced this situation with his parents. Jon’s wife had two close losses time-wise. So they aren’t truly comfortable with the first and get hit again.
      We need that perspective to heighten our awareness, thereby doing a better job for others.
      Hugs
      Anne

  • Fitz

    Anne,
    Great words of wisdom that not only apply to those dealing with terminal illness but just in everyday life; family, rest, faith, balance, love. You are an inspiration. Lou would deb so proud of how you are reaching out and helping others with your heartfelt words.
    Thank you for sharing,
    Fitz

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Fitz
      Yes, balance is the key, letting family heal you, faith center you, rest restore you, love strengthen you.
      Thank you for reading.
      Anne

  • Mitch

    What a great picture of devotion to each other. Remember Jesus is bigger than any of us. We may not understand & we may not like it but we don’t have the same perspective as Jesus. Lou now knows & is praising God. Remember, He will be with us no matter what. Thank you for sharing.

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Thanks, Mitch. I need that reminder even though I know it is true. I have alone days and far more time to myself than I ever dreamed I would, but I know I am not alone but Jesus IS with me.
      Love
      Anne

  • Shayna Mallik

    Annie,
    When i read your blogs my heart aches for you. You are such a strong women to not only have went thru this journey but also to share your story with us. Your stories show how devoted you were to each other and I admire you for that. I can only hope that my relationship with Brad will be as amazing and strong as yours and Lou. Lou will always be in all of our hearts and now he is watching and guarding you from above. I love you Annie.

    <3 Shayna

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Shayna
      I can say that no relationship is perfect, or without work, they won’t last. I always felt, if within my own heart I was giving more than taking, it would work out. Lou must have had the same attitude because I can see now, that he gave more than I did, even though I thought I was giving all I had.
      I know you are right. Lou is watching carefully, and if I need something I have no doubt he is saying to his angel buddies: ” Hey go take care of this. Annie needs help.”
      Love you
      Annie

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Annie,
    I know this blog will help so many who may find themselves in your situation. Thank you so much for sharing from your heart. I am especially proud of the strength of character and faith that you showed us all during this journey with Lou. It proves that when we trust in the Lord and give Him everything, He is faithful to support and hold us up. You are such an inspiration to me.

    I love you Annie!!

    Kari

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Kari
      If I can inspire one couple to love each other more completely. If I can inspire one person fighting the fight we fought to not give up, or to do it smarter, or with more insight, then it is worth exposing myself.
      Even though the outcome was death and I fought against that final end, I submitted my will to God’s and praised Him anyway. We both did. That acceptance is what keeps me now.
      Love you back,
      Annie

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Anne,

    Thank you again for sharing your story and journey with us. It makes me sad whenever I read your blog. I haven’t experienced grief and I fear that that day will come sooner than later since I am surely not getting younger or anyone around me. Great advice Mrs. Collins.

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Joanna
      I just love you and your no-nonsense straightforward ways. I know about the sad part. It makes me sad to write it, but since it helps, I will finish what I started.
      Anne

  • Joe Lavoie

    Anne
    I appreciate you being there and as I walk through my own journey with my parents I admire your strength that you have shown to me and others. I find strength myself with your devotion and care you are a guiding light and I appreciate you very much.
    Sincerely Joe Lavoie

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Ah Joe,
      Sweet words. You are going to get through this. You will never get over it, but you are who you are because of the loss you have already had and this year will make you change even more, but for the better. Remember, I am always here for you Joe, and you know I mean that.
      Love
      Anne

  • Michael Thomas

    Anne,
    Although I didn’t know you well before I started driving you guys, I’m so thankful that I was given that opportunity. Reading these blogs and experiencing your love for Lou first hand has added to my knowledge of life, as sometimes it is important to remember that when we are losing someone, we are losing parts of ourselves as well. Thank you. So much.

    Love,
    Michael

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Michael,
      You were such a wonderful escort. You made us feel a little better, really.
      Your mind is good, like your mother’s. It is wise to learn from the mistakes and experiences of others. We can’t possibly live long enough to make them all ourselves. And some, like this one, I hate to see you ever have to experience first hand.
      Love
      Anne

  • Lauren

    Anne, thank you so much for sharing your journey. Your words are always honest, helpful, and comforting.
    Something I wish I would have done differently with my mom would to have sat with her before her radiation appointments. I remember getting up really early to drive to LA for her appointments and then I would fall asleep in the car after dropping her off. Typing that and reading those words makes me sad that I did that. But I’m glad I was the one to drive her to all her appointments.

    • Anne Anderson Collins

      Lauren,
      In the malady of human imperfection, we can easily find something we wish we had done differently, once we don’t have that person with us. I had quite a few, but I am glad you realize that the fact you were the one to take her meant a lot, both to you and to your mother.
      I am finding more strength to focus more on the positive than I was able to at first. I believe with time that will improve even more. Lou and your mom would both want that for us, I am sure.
      Thanks for honestly examining your own loss in this way. It takes courage. It also takes courage to love ourselves when we know we did our best with what we could see at the time.
      Love
      Anne

  • Elsa

    Anne,
    I really admire you in being able to share such a difficult and intimate experience. Luckily, at this stage in my life, I have not experience something like this and to be completely honest, I don’t know how I would be able to develop the strength to carry on. Working here , I often think of how I would handle loosing someone so close to me and it terrifies me. I thank you for sharing this experience.

    • Anne

      Elsa,
      I did not see you had posted a comment to my blog. It is almost time to write the last one I intend to share about this journey. I have a feeling that should you be called upon to live what I have lived through, your strength will come as you are called upon to need it. I admire your deep resolve to make the experience of your families as their arranger meaningful and memorable. You have a real gift.