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.Caregiver of the Month
January 2004

Denise Starkins
Caregiving Since I Was A Teen

I became a caregiver when I was about 15 years old. As a child it scared me to death to see my mother sick all the time and not understanding what was happening. What frightened me even more was that by the time I was a teen I had been in more hospitals and emergency rooms than you could imagine. It was then that I began to realize how much time and effort my father had put into to taking care of my mom for more than half of his marriage to her.

I reached a point where I was old enough to really understand exactly what was going on so I began caring for my mother along with my father. I helped in anyway that I was capable. As I got older her condition worsened and I began to care for her more and more. Some times she would require care twenty four hours a day as she couldn’t be left alone for fear she would have a seizure and something could would wrong. She never liked having someone take care of her. She tried hard to be independent, but with her condition it was almost impossible.

Finally in December of 2001 her condition had taken its toll on her and she passed away very suddenly. This prompted my dad to go and have a physical to check him self out; something he never would do when my mom was alive because he always said he didn’t have the time as he was always caring for mom.

In January of 2002 the results of his physical revealed he had been suffering from colon cancer in for quite some time. It was then decided that he must seek treatment. He went in to the hospital to have a foot of his colon removed and six months of chemo would follow. We both made it through this time. It was then I began to realize that I was going to have to care for my father in the same way that I had with my mother. It was very hard but I knew he needed me to support him and to do all the things that were necessary to get him back to health. A year had gone by and he had finished all his treatment. He began suffering from a sore throat. The doctor said it was the result from the 6 months of chemo.

In January of 2003 I made an appointment for my father to see a specialist. Upon finishing his examination of my father it was discovered that the cancer had come back in the throat. I remember feeling so helpless thinking about how he had been through so much already; the passing of his wife and then the colon cancer. Well. we had to get over the shock pretty quick and decide on the best method of treatment for him. There were two options: surgery, which meant the total removal of his voice box or chemo and radiation.

As his daughter and caregiver I did all the research I could on the treatment of this type of cancer. We discussed the ramifications with my father. He decided he wanted to go through the radiation and chemo. He underwent 35 sessions of radiation and three rounds of chemo. It was almost as if “we” did. I was with him all the time. As you can imagine, it was pretty hard on him. He suffered a lot more from the side effects of the treatments this time and became incredibly weak. Sometimes it seemed as if we were living at the hospital because we were there every day for almost three months. He came through it and after having two sets of biopsies he remained cancer free for about 4 months.

As I look back and remember how many times my father and mother both were there to take care of me in my time of need, it helps me to know how important it is for me to be there for them. I also have a daughter, Elizabeth, age 11 who I have taken care of since birth. She was born premature weighing only 4 lbs with cerebral palsy only in the right side of her body. The CP was discovered when she was one year old. Needless to say, when we were told of the diagnosis I was totally devastated. However, through the love, support and help of both my parents, I learned to open to help her in any way that she needed; most of all I developed patience. As you can imagine she has required a great amount of special care, but she is my special child who has brought me nothing but joy and happiness since her birth. She wears braces on her upper and lower right extremities and has suffered with asthma as well.

In coping with the care of Elizabeth, it better prepared me to cope with the others in my family during the time of their need. The strength I grew to embrace from caring from Elizabeth helped me to be stronger in all other areas of my life. She has done remarkably well and this brings joy to my life. She is strong like her grandparents and a fighter in spite of what may come across her path.

Elizabeth is such a loving, giving child and she has been the light in all our lives. I call her my special angel.

There were so many times that I wanted to give up. I was so tired and I would get so frustrated until I found the Empowering Caregivers chat and the Empowering Caregivers website. I have found great relief through the out reach, guidance and support groups They have helped me to understand that caring for someone is so very important; they have shown me how to cope and take time out for myself. I greatly appreciate all that they have offered me through this difficult time as my dad’s caregiver. I have learned patience and understanding. However, I believe the most important thing I have learned is that the quality of life is much more important than quantity of life and the care and patience given to the person can really make a difference in their life; a difference in their health; yes, it truly can improve their healing process and the quality of their health.

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