A caregiver shares a story of how he neglected his own health during his mother’s battle with diabetes and later, cancer

There is a popular saying: ‘misfortunes never come single’ but little did I know that this would hold true for me as well. A few months back, in July 2019, my mother who was then in her 50s, was a diabetic but otherwise in good shape. As she rarely complained about her health, the one time she told us that she was experiencing breathing difficulty, my sister and I didn’t take any chances, and rushed her to a corporate hospital. We were under the impression that it could be a monsoon related lung condition.

The doctors wheeled her into emergency, and even as she was being taken in, my mother started sweating profusely. The doctors ran a battery of tests including ECGs, checked her vitals and we waited outside anxiously. After an hour, we were told that she suffered from mild heart attack or myocardial infraction as they say in medical terms. However, they assured us she was stable and few advanced tests like angiogram and scans would reveal the exact cause.
Caregiver Chronicles

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The next day, during a full body scan the doctors found something unusual that looked like lumps in her urinary bladder. They immediately did a biopsy and PET scan only to reveal that she was also suffering from Stage 2 urinary bladder cancer. As a family, we have had an unfortunate history with cancer - my grandmother and uncle both passed away due to cancer, but we were positive that my mother would pull through.

Even as the doctors started discussing and debating if her heart issues need to be addressed first or her urinary bladder cancer, my mother’s health started deteriorating. The cardiologists revealed that the ejection fraction (the percentage of blood that is being pumped out of ventricles with each contraction) was only at 30 percent and they would wait for the heart function to become better and heal on its own.

The oncologists however, felt that a surgery to remove cancerous cells, followed by chemotherapy and radiation cannot be carried out with a weaker heart. We understood that both specialists were right and kept counselling our mother to stay positive.

She was discharged from the hospital, but needed to go back several times a week for treatment. I needed to change her diet completely.  I also spent much more time with her and was there for all regular doctor visits.

However, what I did not realise was that the entire episode took a tremendous toll on my mental and physical health. I had set everything aside including my business. I was battling persistent stress and I could feel severe palpitations. A random check of my pulse rate on an oximeter would show it as 130 to 140 beats per minute.

In one of the interactions with doctors, I happened to mention that I took was experiencing health issues, and I was advised not to take stress, but seeing my beloved mother fighting cancer, there was no way I could relax.

After two months spent in and out of hospitals, regular checkups and loads of medication my mother breathed her last on an early morning. It hit all of us hard, but I think I was affected the most. I couldn’t believe that my mother left us so early and I became severely depressed. 

A month after my mother passed away, my wife who was growing increasing concerned about me, insisted that I get a complete health check. That’s when we discovered that my blood pressure was marginally high, and my erratic eating schedule resulted in pre-diabetes. Eating outside food due to spending many days on hospital duty upped my cholesterol.

I realized that I should take control of my health too, for the sake of my family. Nothing is more painful than losing your loved one and their memories always linger on. But it is also important to stay positive, pray for the departed soul and help other family members come out of grief.

I took up playing tennis regularly to improve body’s metabolic rate, started concentrating more on my work.

My advice to all caregivers is not to suppress your feelings.  It is alright to feel emotional as it reduces anxiety and stress. Share your thoughts with family and friends.

If You Lost Your Loved One:

Talk about fond memories you shared with them.

Involve in charity in the name of departed soul. This gives immense happiness and satisfaction.

Spend more time with rest of family and stay strong.

Cultivate a hobby to take your mind off the negative thoughts.