It’s my pleasure to introduce you to my daughter’s father-in-law, Chuck Ferguson. Chuck was a caregiver to his wife, Susan, until she passed away from cancer in May of 2003. He cared for her in their home in Richfield, Utah. When she died, they had four grown children and five grandchildren.
Written by Chuck Ferguson
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Of course, I suppose it never is. When Susan was diagnosed with cancer, it seemed like the end of the world. It was a devastating blow.
It also was a reversal of roles. As a nurse, Susan had been a caregiver since before we were married. She had helped countless patients who were suffering through hard times with a gentle touch and a heart of gold. Now it was suddenly I who was cast into the role of caregiver. It didn’t come easily.
This past July 11th marked 45 years since Susan and I were married in the Oakland LDS Temple. Marriage to Susan was the best thing ever to happen to me. She was the best part of me, and her spirit still is.
It was just before our 29th anniversary that Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came as a shock to our entire family. Susan had regular mammograms every year, always coming up negative. Nevertheless, she had a feeling that something was wrong and decided to have a biopsy. The results showed her at stage 3 breast cancer. Apparently, calcification had masked the cancerous growth.
Despite the bad news, we tried to maintain our normal routines while sandwiching in Susan’s treatments. We tried to keep a positive outlook, pinning our hopes on an experimental stem cell program that seemed promising.
Susan first received four regular courses of chemotherapy. The program then required Susan to be in the hospital for about a month, then another couple of weeks in offsite housing. Between the collecting of stem cells, and the procedure of intense “near death” chemotherapy followed by reintroducing the collected stem cells for recovery, the whole experience could be described as nothing less than torture. After all that, surely the cancer would be defeated.
And so for several months after the treatments we carried on a “normal” life. However, within myself there was a constant undefined feeling of uncertainty, near inner chaos. Looking back, I can see that it affected me in everything I did. I think I knew that, as much as I hoped otherwise, I had a certain sense of inevitable doom. And with it there was a selfish feeling of, “why me?”
Not long afterwards, Susan started having an ache in her hip that would not go away. X-rays showed a fractured hip caused by bone cancer. An oncologist made it clear that the cancer had spread and that Susan was terminal.
It took me a while to overcome the “poor me” syndrome. But finally I began to realize and internalize what became my mantra – “It’s not about me.” It was difficult to be in the ironic position of caregiver for the woman I considered the best caregiver I had ever known. Trying to live up to the standards that she had established as a caregiver were often frustrating. I was required to do many things for which I had very limited training. Fortunately I had the best possible teacher, Susan.
The next three-and-a-half years were the best years of our marriage as we made the most of the time we had left together. We traveled the world and enjoyed special times with our children and grandchildren. It wasn’t always easy for Susan. Sometimes she was sick, sometimes confined to a wheelchair, often tired, or in pain from the medications and treatments. I did my best to meet Susan’s needs, whatever they might be. Frustrations became challenges, and challenges became opportunities to serve the woman that I loved so dearly.
Being a caregiver for Susan demanded a lot—physically, mentally and emotionally. It demanded more than I ever imagined I could endure. But it was easier whenever I looked into my Susan’s eyes and reminded myself, “It’s not about me.”
Thank you Chuck for sharing your story and for reminding us that our challenges are opportunities to serve the people we love. I’m grateful for you and Susan and the four wonderful children you raised together, especially Eldin, who happens to be my favorite son-in-law. When Katie Mae and Eldin were engaged, I knew it was a good match. They both grew up with a parent giving care to another. I love your reminder that caregiving, marriage and life in general, is not just about me.
Chuck remarried the following year and lives with his wife, Suzie, and their daughter, Katie, in the Salt Lake Valley. I appreciate him sharing this heart-felt message with us!