Like many parents, I had a vision of what my young family’s life could be and thought I had some control over making it happen. Then I found myself an unexpected caregiver when my physician husband was diagnosed with cancer at age 39, one month before our third child was born.
I thought, no problem, we can handle this. At the time, we both had strong careers in the medical field. How hard could this be?
Instead, I discovered that being the well parent, caring for my spouse with cancer, and raising our three children was the hardest job I had ever done.
We stumbled through 12 years of nonstop cancer treatments that included a stem cell transplant, numerous weeks in ICU and isolation, more than thirteen surgeries to clear a bone infection, and two years of wound care – all without much parenting guidance.
On three separate occasions, over the span of five years, I had to prepare our children when doctors told me their dad was not going to make it.
There wasn’t a day that I didn’t worry about my husband’s survival and the impact of cancer’s chaos on our children’s health and well-being.
As my family’s journey continued, I was desperate for answers to my questions about parenting, managing cancer’s chaos, and keeping my family moving forward. But I had little to show for my research.
Most resources designed to help parents through cancer are written for the cancer patient with a side mention for the well parent. Too often, I found the supporting parent’s needs overlooked. Yet, they are the very person, in most cases, holding the family together and providing the majority of patient support. With the amount of resources directed to cancer care, we should be paying greater attention to the unique needs of the well parent caring for their partner through cancer and raising children.
My hope is that those of us who have been here awhile, along with those newly entering the unexpected caregiver arena, can start a larger conversation that attracts more attention, resources, and supportive strategies for the well parent supporting their spouse or partner through cancer while raising their children.
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Jeannie Gazzaniga Moloo PhD, MS, RDN is an award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist who once owned a clinical nutrition practice, where she advised clients on healthy eating to help manage heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a variety of gastrointestinal conditions. She is a Ph.D. in epidemiology, with an emphasis in preventive medicine and environmental health and holds a Masters of Science in human nutrition. For nine years she was a national media spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics providing sound, science-based nutrition advice to consumers, media, industry, and researchers. She has been quoted in the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Times, CNN, WebMD, Forbes, USAToday, Newsweek, Huffington Post, Prevention Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Men’s Health, Women’s Day, AARP Magazine, Reader’s Digest and appeared on ABCNews, CBSNews, NBCNews, FoxNews, NPR, and KYGO-FM and a former advisor to Parents Magazine.
Jeannie became an unexpected caregiver when her physician husband was diagnosed with a blood cancer at age 39 and three weeks before the birth of their third child. For more than 12 years she was the supporting parent caring for her husband during his extensive cancer treatments, while raising their three children. She understands the challenges, demands, and frustrations being the well parent. Unfortunately, she found few resources that spoke directly to her as she was trying to survive the unimaginable. It was a short time after her husband’s passing she realized it was time to become a resource for others living a similar experience.
Currently, Jeannie lectures on health and wellness, foods and culture, and community nutrition to more than 450 students annually at California State University, Sacramento, and the University of California, Davis.