I became a caregiver for my husband Dixon in 2005 when he was diagnosed with a rare lymphoma. Here is my story.

We had arrived at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and I was anxious. We had no friends or family in the area. We were to be there for six weeks for Dixon’s stem-cell transplant. I had watched him go from being a strong, healthy man to a man struggling to survive. Soon after we moved into our apartment in Rochester, a kind minister came to see me. Her name was Rev. Shirley, and she told me that I needed to remember to take good care of myself. “No,” I said, thinking that she had misunderstood. “It’s my husband who has cancer.” “Yes,” said Rev. Shirley gently, “I know.” She went on to explain to me that many caregivers ended up in the hospital. Anxiety and stress take a huge toll on their bodies. Her words stopped me in my tracks. Wow! I had never thought about any of that. I had been so overwhelmed with Dixon having cancer and trying to care for him, I felt guilty if I thought about myself. Rev. Shirley went on to advise me to eat healthily, get enough rest, and try to find little distractions. Her advice put a whole new perspective on things. This was a huge wake-up call for me.

Every day there were several appointments at the clinic. On week five, Dixon had very intensive chemotherapy sessions. At that point, I knew he would likely become quite frail. I needed to stay healthy. I immediately thought about small changes I could make. I also thought about ways I could look for little distractions, especially while Dixon was resting. I made a list:

  1. I could lose myself in the bookstore for an hour.
  2. I could go and get pancakes.
  3. I could get a few short walks in.
  4. I could sit outside and just breathe in the fresh air.
  5. Distractions…hmmm…Of course! The most obvious distraction was humor. It was right in front of me all the time!

I felt better already. Having a plan that was sensible, somehow calmed me. Each day going forward, I built in a couple of items from my list. I looked forward to “my time.” It was as if I had been given permission to take care of myself. I am forever grateful to Rev. Shirley and her timely advice.

According to National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2015) more than one third of caregivers are 65 and over.

About the Author


Debra S. Carlisle Smith currently works for AgeWell Services in Senior Transportation. She lives in North Muskegon with Dixon (in remission for 7 years) and her dog Joey. Debra became passionate about writing a humorous book to give caregivers a brief distraction. Chortle (Page Publishing, 2022) is dedicated to caregivers.

A member of White Lake Michigan Toastmasters Club for eight years, Debra discovered she loved writing about true experiences and weaving them into humorous stories.

This blog post was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue of the Senior Perspectives – Lakeshore.

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