At 67, I decided to pursue a dream I had for years. I joined a dragon boat team. I had never paddled anything but a canoe before. As a breast cancer survivor, I ‘qualified’ to join a survivor team. I had no idea what I was getting into and quickly realized I had to somehow be in time with and work as hard as the rest of the team. It was grueling. My gut told me it was now or never, do not give up. The focus was intense. I loved it! I quickly went from an unfit, aging woman in retirement wondering what’s next, to an excited, passionate dragon boater. I was, very quickly, more fit than I had been in decades. My passion grew.
A year later, my husband faced open heart surgery shortly after receiving the diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. The surgery exacerbated the dementia, bringing it on full speed. It was devastating. I was now his caregiver. The first few months of hospital stays and medication adjustments took a toll, not only on him, but on me as well. I wondered how we could do this. His life had changed completely and with that mine. I sunk into a pit of despair and guilt. Guilt, whenever I thought of myself, whenever I thought of dragon boating, whenever I crumbled under the stress.
It took time to realize that if I did not take care of myself, I would be unable to properly care for my husband. He depends on me. We need each other. We are a team.
Through this period, with help from my children, I was able to go out on the water and for a time, get relief from the continuous stress of caregiving and refuel my soul. My dragon boat team was my escape, if only for a few hours a week.
In order to carry on, I also joined a Caregiver Support Group that meets once a month. The shared experiences and handholding that takes place in this group is where I can relax and let down. No coverup, just honesty and understanding for each other.
We also joined the Voices in Motion Choir. Not only for the singing, but even more so, and unforeseen by me, for the support and compassion in dealing with a shared disease.
For now, I find solace in my dragon boat training on not one, but two teams. I joined a competitive breast cancer survivor team a year ago. Without another vital caregiver tool, Respite, the Club Crew World Dragon Boat Championship in France in August would be merely a dream or ‘wish I had…’. I am working hard towards that goal in celebration of my 70th birthday. My husband is my biggest supporter!
Take care of you in order to take care of your loved one.