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Rocio Ferrer had a lot on her plate.

She was pursuing a Master’s degree while still working, remodeling her home and planning a wedding.

Then in April, Ferrer’s plate got even fuller when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer.

“I told myself my mom’s dying,” said Ferrer. “She’s dead.”

Ferrer says she initially was consumed with sadness, grieving for her mother’s health. It was hard to see her strong, independent mother struggle to do simple tasks. But then she came to the realization that she needed to become an advocate for her mother; it was time to step up and be the person her mother needed.

“I decided we are going to get through this together,” said Ferrer. “It’s us against cancer.”

Ferrer moved her mother into her home, kept track of her medications and drove her to and from every doctor’s appointment and treatment. However, juggling everything eventually took a toll on Ferrer. She started having panic attacks and realized she was overwhelmed.

“It was my body telling me to slow down,” said Ferrer. “I needed to take care of myself before I could take care of my mom.”

Ferrer started seeing a therapist and carving out small amounts of time for herself each day for things like yoga and attending a caregiver support group. When things got tense between her and her mother, she stepped away for a few minutes.

When she was first diagnosed with cancer, Ferrer’s mother had a tumor the size of a cantaloupe. Today, the tumor is barely detectable on scans. Ferrer says she thinks her mother had such a successful response to treatment partly because of all the support she received from friends and family, and she now knows how important caregivers are in patients’ lives.

Being a caregiver also brought the mother and daughter closer together, a small gift the pair never thought would come from illness. They both appreciate the time they have together now more than ever.

Ferrer’s advice to other caregivers is to take advantage of all the resources available to you, like support groups, patient orientation and mental health services. Above all else, she stresses the importance of taking care of your needs as well as the patient’s.

Moffitt offers a Family and Friends Support Group every Tuesday at 1 p.m. on the 5th floor of the hospital. For more information on support groups, click here.