For Cancer Caregivers, Even Nanoseconds Count

November 8, 2019

Editor's NoteThis is part of Nancy's Caregiving series. Please see other posts in this series.

I lived in heart-stopping fear after my twins Rebecca and Casey were born. My husband Brett’s cancer recurred with a vengeance and the odds of his survival took a dark turn. Hoping for a miracle, Brett went through a double stem cell transplant and rounds and rounds of chemotherapy mixed together like a cocktail. It was a terrible time for our young family—Brett was in and out of three different New York City hospitals and the twins, born prematurely, spent their first six weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. Nothing felt stable or secure.

Brett soldiered along, somewhat stoic, except for the times he visited the twins at the hospital. His pride at becoming a father could not be contained. He wanted to take pictures to show the world.

I, on the other hand, did not want to document any moment of our suffering. The idea horrified me because photographing preemie babies with tubes and bruises and a dying father was not my idea of a Hallmark card. I was haunted by an existential question: How do you embrace motherhood when widowhood feels so close?

Traumatic as it felt to capture hospital moments, my mother ultimately convinced me it was the right thing to do. “Someday you’ll look back on this and see how far Rebecca and Casey have come.”

I realized that day, no matter the future and what could happen, we were still a family of four in that present moment. For cancer caregivers, life is lived even down to the nanosecond. Time for me has become less a measurement of the day than the minutes. The unexpected exchange with a neighbor. Breakfast with your child. Words of encouragement from a friend.  Taken together, these are the lifelines that give cancer caregivers meaning and purpose.

Many people ask me how I survived such stressful times. Not easily. Not gracefully. In some ways, the sheer busyness of parenthood was a blessing because you have no choice but to be present when comforting a tiny baby. There’s no room for the merry-go-round of fear and projection that accompanies a cancer diagnosis in such moments; there is only the baby in the crook of your arm. Life must be lived now.

Looking back, my mother was right. Our first family photos in the hospital are like gold to me now.

When at last the twins came home, we nourished them with love. It felt like an incredible feat when first Casey, and weeks later, Rebecca, reached 10 pounds. Because of his treatment, Brett could not change their diapers. Because of his neuropathy, he could not kneel on the ground to play with them. But oh, how he held them.

Today, I feel blessed by those moments we had as a family of four. Even the times that were tinged with pain are now treasures to me. Learning to live in the infinitesimal spaces of each day brought me necessary calm and today, priceless memories.

Remembering Your Needs is crucial for cancer caregivers. CSC offers a host of resources on this page, as well as all-purpose tips for caregivers here.


Suggested Resources:


10 Tips for Caregivers

Friends & Family

Brain and Spinal Cord Cancer

Stem Cell Transplant for Cancer

Pain and Neuropathy

Find Support

Find a local CSC or Gilda's Club for support groups and other resources