What it’s like to be a caregiver for an international cancer patient
In early 2018, my husband, Guillermo, wanted to participate in an IRONMAN competition near our home in Quito, Ecuador. A blood test during the qualifying physical that showed he was anemic. In March, follow-up blood work revealed that my 48-year-old husband had multiple myeloma.
His primary doctor explained to us what treatment would be involved. We discovered that we had international insurance that would cover the treatment in the United States. We explored many hospitals, but through our research and our local doctors, we found MD Anderson and Luis Eduardo Fayad, M.D. He became our angel in Houston.
It is not easy to start this journey. It is difficult to accept that cancer has hit your family and there are so many logistical hurdles to figure out when you are traveling internationally. It can be daunting to buy plane tickets, look for places to stay and rent a car in another country. But the International Center at MD Anderson guided us through the process, and we started to feel secure and at ease when we walked through the doors of MD Anderson.
Our first visits involved lab tests, biopsies, imaging and appointments with our multidisciplinary care team. My husband’s diagnosis, stage I multiple myeloma, was confirmed, and we learned that he needed a stem cell transplant. That was when we met Krina Patel, M.D., who gave us faith and hope.
Making Houston our home during myeloma treatment
My husband and I traveled with our three children and planned to spend the summer in Houston for his autologous stem cell transplant and recovery. Prior to the transplant, he completed four cycles of chemotherapy with a combination of bortezomib, ienalidomide and dexamethasone.
His stem cell transplant was performed by Partow Kebriaei, M.D., in July 2018. In the first few days following the transplant, Guillermo felt good. After about a week, he experienced flu-like symptoms, a loss of appetite and fatigue. Thankfully, the more intense side effects subsided within a few weeks, and he was discharged from the hospital.
After that, we traveled to Houston every three months. Now, we know everyone -- nurses, practitioners, doctors, and assistants from the Lymphoma and Myeloma Center. If we ever have questions, there is always a friendly face willing to help. My husband does not speak much English, but so many hospital staff are able to communicate and connect with him despite the language barrier. When we are home in Ecuador, we use MyChart frequently to keep in contact with Guillermo’s care team, and he continues to take lenalidomide for maintenance.
Surrounded by compassion
At times, it can be overwhelming to be a caregiver. But at MD Anderson I saw that there were so many people going through the same thing. There is an atmosphere of compassion, and that helped me to stay strong in solidarity with other families.
We have spent a summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas and many other important celebrations outside our country. We’ve explored Houston during our trips and found out how many fun things there are to do. We have been to Galveston, the Houston Zoo, Space Center Houston, seen the Nutcracker and eaten many delicious meals. Texans are kind people. We have found out that even in difficult times, they offer you a smile.
Houston feels like home to us now, and MD Anderson is our safe place.
Staying connected as a family has helped us through cancer treatment
Staying together helped us navigate the difficult times. We were able to direct our energy, prayer and positivity to my husband during his treatment. We placed notes all over Guillermo’s hospital room with uplifting phrases – “You are a hero, you can do it, you are warrior.”
After his stem cell transplant, my husband was exhausted. Our children created games to encourage their dad to take a walk around the hospital floor or motivate him to complete other tasks. We are not currently traveling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is my husband’s ultimate goal to one day be able to ring the bell at MD Anderson, surrounded by his family.
It may sound strange, but we will never forget all the memories that we made as a family during my husband’s cancer journey. We are thankful for the opportunities that we have when we travel to the United States and now, we appreciate what really matters.