November is National Family Caregiver Month! Caregivers are a critical part of any sarcoma team. They provide support and unconditional love as they care for their loved one. However, caregivers also face challenges themselves. Brenda Schurhamer, caregiver for her husband Mike, shares her experience as a caregiver in hopes of helping others.
In 2006, Mike had soreness in his calf and visited his chiropractor and massage therapist. The massage therapist told Mike something was unusual and he should get it checked. Mike went to his primary care doctor, had an MRI, and was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma. At the University of Minnesota, he had several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Throughout the process, Brenda was by his side providing support. Mike is now cancer free and both he and Brenda are dedicated Rein in Sarcoma volunteers.
Q: How did you handle the physical aspects of being a caregiving?
A: Mike wanted to be as independent as possible. I was available when he needed or wanted me to be. I continued to go to work and came home at least once during the day, sometimes more often if he was having a tough time. He worked almost the entire time he was receiving chemo, so it was just a matter of enabling him to get the rest that he needed and make sure he had good healthy food.
Q: How did you cope with the emotional aspects of caregiving?
A: I did what was in front of me and tried not to think about what “could” happen. I found it helpful staying in the now, today, doing what was needed in that moment. Too much thought into the “what if’s” would send me over the edge.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced?
A: I would have to say my biggest challenge was fear. It would stop me in my tracks. There was so much unknown. I hated not knowing what the outcome was going to be. I’m a big picture person and wanted to know the next steps, and no one could give us those answers.
Q: What advice would you give to other caregivers?
A: My first response when someone asked me if we needed anything was to say, “no thank you, we’re good.” I would tell caregivers to accept the help and support that people offer. Also, reach out, talk to people who have been through the process, ask ALL the questions.
Also, write things down. We would write all our questions before an appointment and take out the notebook and start asking away. Mike talked to the doctors, and I took all the notes. It just became part of each appointment. The doctors expected it and never cut us short. They answered every question, even when we asked it again.
Q: What self-care techniques did you use, if any?
A: Friends brought us hot meals nearly every night and had food delivered to us. Friends came and sat with us, prayed with us. They hugged me when I didn’t realize I needed hugs.
Q: Were there any resources or organizations that were helpful to you while providing care?
A: Of course, Rein in Sarcoma was so helpful. Dr. Clohisy gave us the RIS Patient Guidebook and it was filled with resources. I thought Mike was going to wear it out. We also have an amazing group of people we surround ourselves with. We are blessed!
If you are a caregiver and would like to connect with another caregiver, Rein in Sarcoma can connect you with a trained volunteer “who’s been there.” Our volunteers are available to talk by phone or email, sharing their experience and tips. Connect just once or on a regular basis. For more information, contact: RIS Sarcoma Support Team – Rein in Sarcoma