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Amy Atkins, Thank You Cancer and Wholesome Life Fitness

Amy Atkins, Thank You Cancer and Wholesome Life Fitness

Being a caregiver has given me a unique perspective on the shifting nature of relationships and partnerships.

My experiences have redefined how I interact with all the important people in my life.  As a caregiver, my mother was suddenly dependent on me. My older brother needed 24 hour care while receiving high doses of chemotherapy and a new romantic relationship turned me into an unexpected champion and advocate for mental illness awareness.

At the beginning of my caregiver journey, I felt like I was completely out of my league with the tools I had. It was my determination to tap new tools and grow as a caregiver that helped me thrive in each of these relationships. I wasn’t perfect, but I succeeded in going beyond my own limitations to become an impactful caregiver.

Leaving the Life I Knew Behind

Most 26 year olds are not faced with becoming the primary caregiver for their mother. My mom had been diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. She decided to have a half mastectomy and get four rounds of chemotherapy. Her father had died of cancer and I think she was concerned about surviving for me and my brother’s sake.

When she was diagnosed, I was making progress in my career, and I moved 2,000 miles away from home to be her primary caregiver. We got through it as a team. I made her go to group therapy and I attended my own support group. We accepted our new roles in each other’s lives. We went to Starbucks after every treatment and listened to Charlie Parker on our car rides home. We transformed the whole experience into an adventure. She is now cancer free. We still have the ability to switch hats from mother and daughter to partners when needed. It is a gift from cancer that we’ll always share.

Let Me Protect You Instead

My older brother and I were always very close.  There was a photo of us waiting for him when I was brought home from the hospital the first time that left him beaming. When he was first diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer, I wasn’t afraid. I trusted that my big brother could beat anything. When I was taking care of him, he was receiving treatment at Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. I got to protect him from everything but the cancer. His wife and I rotated weekly shifts. Of course the first night I was there, he became symptomatic but luckily he was able to stay out of the hospital.

I learned a lot about sports, watching ESPN with him for two weeks while he mostly slept on the couch.  It was strange to see him so weak yet so determined and I admired him for his tenacity. He never got cranky with me although I know he felt awful inside. We just got through it as a team.  Eventually, the cancer took a turn for the worse and he lost his fight with it. I will always admire the courage he showed me throughout his entire battle.

What Did I Sign Up For Again?

The-Changing-Nature-of-Relationships-in-Caregiving-by-Amy-AtkinsWhen I began dating my current boyfriend, his mother was dying. He needed a break from being her sole caregiver. His health was suffering but no one knew the extent of his illness. About one month into our relationship, he began experiencing severe vertigo brought on by stress. It was more than a year later when he was formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. By the time he received his diagnosis, we had a “me and you against the world” mentality.

We suffered stigma and rejection from everyone in the medical field except for a few people. One nurse introduced us to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). It was a saving grace for both of us.

When we refer to each other as partners, we mean we are each other’s advocates, caregivers, and life companions. Both of us became educated and empowered about mental illness through our classes and programs with NAMI. Now, he’s thriving, gainfully employed and has taken full control of his mental health. He still has his bad days but his coping skills are now incredibly solid. With the added support he receives from his family and friends, he’s become extremely adept at handling the challenges his condition presents.

If I Could Change One Thing…

… I would want more education about all three circumstances before I was thrust into them.  The education caregivers need is out there but we all need a person to tap us on the shoulder and steer us in the right direction. As a caregiver, I am never going to be perfect, but I will always make a concerted effort and look for the low-hanging resources around me.

Are you starting out on your caregiving journey and aren’t sure what to do? Or are you an experienced caregiver looking to share your experiences and support others? Connect on our community forums.

Amy Atkins has been passionate about living a wholesome and healthy lifestyle since she was a child. She’s a vegetarian but not a vegan and loves Mexican food and soccer. She’s a mental health advocate and cancer care advocate loves her boyfriend and her two dogs. She has been a caregiver for loved ones and encourages other caregivers to practice self-care. Curator of Transitioning Siblings (formerly Thank You Cancer). She’s new to North Carolina and is originally from Southern California.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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