Katie is a social worker and caregiver to her fiancé Justin Ozuna, who has chronic myeloid leukemia. She is a social worker, living and working in Dallas, Texas. Their wedding date is set for next October.
Do what you can do and that's all you can do.
That's my mom's well-known mantra. The phrase used to drive me -- a Type-A control freak -- completely insane. I never understood why my sweet (and oh so persistent) mom, a two-time caregiver and intensive care unit nurse, always repeated this phrase to me.
I finally began to process her words this past January as I cared for my fiancé during his cancer drug trial, the darkest time in our lives.
Gauntlet of emotions
On January 14, I got engaged to Justin, and the next day he entered a drug trial to battle a mutation in his chronic myeloid leukemia. By the next week, he could barely walk and we had learned that the drug had caused permanent damage to his eyesight.
Needless to say, this was not the magical time I expected immediately following our engagement.
I started running the gauntlet of emotions that caregivers feel - feelings I knew I would face and thought that I'd manage effortlessly since I'm a social worker. I started spiraling into a sad and lonely place.
I felt guilty that Justin had another hurdle to face in his life, guilty that I didn't, guilty that I was struggling to cope with his illness, guilty that I felt guilty (try figuring that one out).
I also felt angry - angry that our friends got to enjoy their lives as young adults, without facing life-and-death decisions daily. Angry when his family called (or didn't call at all) to ask about Justin's health and threw out an "oh, and tell Katie hi" at the end of the conversation -- like I'm not a part of Justin's struggle, like I'm not struggling with him.
Finally, I felt so angry with myself, for not being able to manage all of these emotions. I should be able to do this, I told myself. I should know how to manage this. Why couldn't I get it together?
Secret to happiness as a caregiver
Enter my mom and her mantra: "You do what you can do, and that's all you can do." No matter how hard I cried or how hopeless I felt, she would repeat this phrase to me.
Finally, it sunk in. Like a key unlocking a hidden door, my mother showed me the secret to happiness as a caregiver: I can only do my best, and everything else is out of my control.
Being a caregiver is about enjoying the time you have with your partner, knowing that you're fortunate to have this day -- this moment -- with him or her. You make hard decisions, love your partner with all of your heart and hope that God gives you another day together.
On October 5, after battling cancer for seven years, we found out that Justin is in molecular remission. This was happiest day of our lives, and we continue to celebrate his remission with our family and friends.
I don't know where we'll be in another seven years -- if we'll be blessed with kids, if we'll have our health or if we'll be fighting another difficult battle together. All I know is that in this moment, at 28 years old, I am so lucky to have found my soulmate. And, I'm thankful that my momma has taught her stubborn daughter the secret to life.
Appreciating every moment - joyful or difficult or something in between -- is the secret to happiness. These moments create our lives, and life is a blessing every single day.