Carrie Gibson, Caregiver
San Juan, Puerto Rico
On Dec. 18, 2009, I was at a Christmas gathering when I received a call from my twin sister. Our dad, the big boss, the strong one, was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. Since that day, I saw my Dad, my Mom and my siblings struggling in all the stages of grief. We all were in different stages, trying to understand why, of all of us, he was the one who diagnosed with this disease. He was always healthy, he exercised, and he had great eating habits. He had been having symptoms for about a year and was already over 50, but a colonoscopy was not recommended by his primary physician. After being constantly pressured by Mom, Dad finally went to another physician, who ordered his first colonoscopy.
By then it was already too late, surgery was not an option because of the tumor size, so he began chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. Then he went through surgery, colostomy, more chemos, more surgeries. I guess he was suffering, however, he never complained in front of us. He never lost his smile, he always kept a lot of faith in the treatments, physicians, and God.
From 2013 to 2014 he had a good year, but after the CT to finally remove his medport, we found out that now the cancer had spread to both lungs. With a negative biopsy, he decided to undergo surgery following his proctologist recommendations. All tumors that were removed tested positive. Although my Dad remained optimistic, his body betrayed him and every day he was getting weaker. My Mom started feeling more and more burnt out, stressed, and I can’t imagine how awful it must be to see the love of your life suffering day after day. My sister and I decided to get more involved and helped lessen her workload. We moved in with them to help in all possible ways.
We had the opportunity to see the real struggle, to be face to face with cancer and we decided to focus on the little miracles. We even prepared Dad a book of his legacy where our brothers, sister, mom, grandkids, family and friends wrote letters about what we had learned from him. In these letters we thanked him, some of us asked for forgiveness, and we shared with him the lessons we learned from him and will always cherish.
That way in life he could knew that he was leaving part of him in every one of us.
All of us went above and beyond, sacrificing time with our family and even compromising our jobs. We got tired, sleepless and anxious of not knowing what to expect each day. But despite that, nothing that we did will pay back how great of a father he was for us, the Gibson Five.
Papi died in the comfort of his bed, holding our hands while Mami was praying. It was a bittersweet honor to have shared his last breath with him. We don’t regret anything. We learned that caregiver’s burnout is real, but we also lived the other side of the story. The smiles, the kisses, the hugs, the deep conversations, the good readings, we were kind of partners in crime against cancer.
Through caregiving we got to know his very best version, and we will always be so proud of him.
Despite the chaos, you’ll gain perspective in your journey. Enjoy the tons of little miracles that come along the way, such as a smile, a friend’s hug, a rainbow, a deep and meaningful conversation with your loved ones. It is so rewarding to experience the honor of taking care of someone you truly love when they need it the most.