Jerry, a caregiver to his wife Connie during her anal cancer journey, shares the couple's story with the Anal Cancer Foundation and talks about his experience being a peer mentor to other caregivers. Jerry encourages other caregivers and thrives to sign up because, as he puts it, "You might just find some healing in there somewhere." We hope their story inspires you!
How do you process something like this? Like a rush of wind, silent and all consuming, you are taken by surprise. Through puffy, tear-soaked eyes, the woman you love tells you that your world will forever change. It was Oct 3, 2013 and my wife had been diagnosed with Anal Cancer.
The simultaneous hot flash and chill that runs up your spine, is something you will always remember. I instantly took a position of strength, refusing to cry or show that I was scared, I was. I just knew that we had to fight this and we needed to do it together. The roles were set, after all, that is my job as a husband, right? Determined as I was, I learned over the next several months, just how little I knew about fighting Cancer.
Within a week the battle began, my whole life had just been turned inside out. The next 3 months were a blur of medications, post it notes to keep dosages straight, countless trips to the Dr., the first 24hr/5day round of Chemo, 28 days of radiation treatments and finally the second 24hr/5day round of Chemo. Through it all, there was laundry, bills, jobs, meals, kids and of course, the cleanups in aisle 7. Following her second, 5 day round of Chemo, her white blood cell count crashed. She went into the hospital and was on every antibiotic known to man. At one point she literally had 6 - I.V. bags running into her, at one time. It was two weeks after she entered the hospital, Christmas Day 2013, that I got the news that finally made me cry. The rollercoaster had come to a stop, I stood in front of my wife, helped her get dressed, I was taking her home. This was the single best Christmas Ever. We had done it.
Living in Hawaii, we did not know about the Anal Cancer Foundation when she was diagnosed. Actually, we weren’t referred to any outside support groups at all, anywhere along the journey. We leaned heavily on our Church and our Military family for support, who I have to say, were simply amazing. The width and depth to which these people went, some of whom were complete strangers, was nothing short of heroic. My wife was so moved by the generosity of these people, that she knew she wanted to give back somehow. She started by sending thank you cards to everyone who helped us but, it wasn’t enough.
As she recovered, she spent time online and found the Anal Cancer Foundation. She immediately signed on as a peer-2-peer volunteer. A few weeks later, she asked if I wanted to volunteer too. I said sure but, I didn’t have cancer. She said no but, you were the primary care giver for someone who did. The lightbulb went off, I realized there were others out there like me and I was in.
I began asking myself, what do you say to help someone navigate something like Cancer? The answer is you don’t, you listen. Any help, guidance or shoulder you can provide someone, comes from your response to what you read in their email. It’s sometimes between the lines but it’s always there. Here’s the amazing part. They will thank you for sharing your story or just for listening! The first time I experienced this, I was blown away. Someone I had never met, thanked me for helping them, all I did was listen and give a couple pieces of advice AND THEY THANKED ME! While Most of my peer-2-peer connections are brief, just a few emails over a few weeks. Honestly, I think this is probably typical, folks just want to know they’re going to get through this.
My wife and I have been volunteering for almost 7 years now because she wanted to “find a way to give back”. I think the give back on this, works both ways. I encourage anyone who feels the calling to “give back” to do it. You might just find some healing in there somewhere.
Jerry Omo jr.
The anal cancer community needs people like Jerry to support our thrivers. Could you be a volunteer caregiver and give back?