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By Beth Ross

When my husband Ray came home after having colon cancer surgery with an ileostomy bag, I had no idea what to do and was a little freaked out. The first morning he woke up and stepped out of bed, the ileostomy bag fell to the ground and broke. I knew we were in trouble. After keeping our dog out of the mess on the floor and realizing that I could never be a nurse, I told him I just couldn't do this. My sweet hubby took me by the hand and told me that we could do this. He said he would walk me through hanging his bag. It was difficult at first, but by the end, we were like a pit crew changing it so quickly.

What I first learned from this experience is that you must keep a sense of humor about things like this. Secondly, you must have patience and calm. Ray was so patient. He took me step-by-step on what to do and how to change his bag.

It wasn't until later that we laughed about what happened. The same way we laughed when he was going through chemotherapy. We teased each other.  I also told him he had met his limit on his cancer card after having three different cancers within four years!

The most important thing I learned from his experiences with cancer is that being a caregiver is a very intimate and humbling thing. I never thought my handsome, healthy husband who always had a song in his heart would have this terrible disease, but he did. So, I learned how to be a nurse and I learned how to make light of a horrible situation. I also learned how valuable life is — whether they are someone you love or a stranger. Cancer is horrible, but you can find humor and intimacy in the darkest of moments. Caregivers need compassion, kindness, and patience just like patients. You never know if the person you are taking care of will be there later to teach you more.

Moffitt recognizes that caregivers are a vital part of a patient’s care team. We offer many services, including support groups. To find more resources for caregivers, please visit our Caregivers and Families section.