Caregivers: our better angels


“You have cancer.”

Doesn’t matter what kind of cancer; doesn’t matter which doctor delivers the message. Nothing prepares you to hear the words.

“You have cancer.”

The statement is like a cannon shot to the chest. Its emotional effect might be immediate; the reaction could take place in day or two. You might be able to put it off a bit longer. Regardless, that effect will occur, and it can be devastating. You can pretend you are tough. You can try to convince yourself it is no big deal. You can try to ignore it.

But, in truth, you’re going to need help.

Most of us have entertained the idea of our mortality; but, an intellectual understanding of the end is one thing, the fact our limited time on earth is facing us straight on is another. It can be stunning, disorienting.

“You have cancer.”

Not a minor cancer, an outpatient condition; you’ve got the big deal. Breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, cervical cancer, brain cancer, liver cancer, ovarian cancer — one of the Big Cs you don’t want to think about, or host.

You get the diagnosis … things change, the hospital becomes familiar, anxiety increases. The minutes become valuable, attachments to others, to life, precious.

You visit the doctors, you undergo treatment:  chemo, radiation, surgery. Your attitude changes, sometimes minute to minute. What is meaningful to you changes.

You’ve been pushed to a frank apprehension of your limitations and the potential suffering your disease might deliver.

Each reacts in his or her own way to this harsh fact when it is thrown in front of them. We each digest those words, “You have cancer,” then we must go on.

Some immerse themselves in religion, some in stoical resignation, some in despair, some in careless optimism.

But, when the dust settles, after you hear, “You have cancer,” there is a guaranteed positive turn to make, if you have the good fortune to do so.

You turn to those we call “caregivers.” They circle the wagons; they gather around you. They are with you when you undergo treatments, surgeries, the processes that, experienced alone, could sap you, steal from you the will to continue, to survive.

Loved ones, family, friends … these caregivers provide you a welcome shelter. They tend to you and, because of them, you discover what truly matters — the comfort of love, care and commitment.

This Friday, the annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life takes place at Golden Peaks Stadium at Pagosa Springs High School. The event is held to honor “survivors,” those who lost a battle to cancer, those battling cancer. And their caregivers.

It is an emotional event, and one that raises funds to support ongoing research into ways to defeat the many forms of cancer.

We believe the major attention during the evening should be given to those who pull the oars, those whose love and care and concern buoy their suffering loved ones and friends. The caregivers. It is the love and compassion of these people that is a balm to those who suffer.

It is in the dedication and love shown one to another in times of stress and pain, that we become most human. It is in recognizing that dedication and benefiting from that love that we realize the best in life, when life becomes tenuous. Care is an immeasurably valuable gift.

If you get a chance Friday, go to Golden Peaks Stadium. Give your support to those who are battling cancer. They have heard the weighty words.

And show your appreciation to the caregivers. They are our better angels.           Karl Isberg (Reprinted from June 2013)