When Stacy Sager found out her husband, Craig, had acute myeloid leukemia in April 2014, she was terrified. “You have a mix of emotions,” she says, “because you just don’t know what lies ahead.”
But the wife and mother quickly adapted to life as a caregiver. She recruited friends and family to help manage their household in Atlanta, and began traveling with her husband to MD Anderson for treatment.
“I thought it was hard when we were driving an hour to the hospital back home,” Stacy says. “But now I’m flying back and forth two or three times a week. And I hate flying. So I got over that fear real quick.”
Identify the best information sources
After her husband’s initial diagnosis, Stacy started gathering information. “Knowledge is power,” she says, “so I tried to get as much information as possible.”
Stacy worked in health care for more than 15 years, so she felt comfortable and knew the right questions to ask.
“I encourage caregivers to talk to their physicians. Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju spent hours answering any question I had. And that was very helpful. But don’t go on the internet and get scared by statistics. They’re just numbers. We ignore them.”
Maintain a normal home life
Once Stacy and Craig had more information in hand, they shared what they knew with their children.
“Kids are resilient, so we didn’t hide it from them,” Stacy says. “They’ve seen daddy with IV poles and masks. But we try hard to keep their lives as normal as possible. And we work with their school counselors to make sure the children aren’t acting out in any way.”
The biggest change in the children’s lives is their awareness of their father’s fragility.
“They couldn’t have friends over for 18 months because of germs and the risk of infection,” Stacy says. “And every day, they had to come home, strip off their clothes, put on fresh clothes and wash their hands. Elementary school is a breeding ground for germs, so if some kid is coughing next to them, they also know to get up and move.”
The challenge of balancing home and hospital
With Craig now facing his third bout with cancer, balancing the needs of her sick husband and their school-age children remains a constant struggle for Stacy.
“I constantly feel the guilt of leaving Craig and leaving the children,” she says. “The kids don’t want me to leave and he doesn’t want me to leave, so it’s this tug of war. It helps that Craig is very understanding.”
The importance of self-care
After her husband’s diagnosis, Stacy learned the importance of taking good care of herself.
“For the first year and half, I was really focused on Craig,” she says. “He had several infections and it was very stressful.”
Stacy was so affected by her husband’s health challenges that she developed shingles and an autoimmune disease from the stress.
“At that point, I had to take a step back and go, ‘I can’t live my life like this anymore,’” she says. Since then, Stacy has started exercising again and eats healthy foods.
“As a mother, especially, you always put yourself second,” she says. “But what I’ve learned is that caregivers have to take care of themselves first. Because if we’re not healthy, we can’t provide the care and love a patient needs.”