BY MICHELLE MILLER
According to a man who has provided support to two significant others battling cancer, there is a difference between a caregiver and a care partner. Jim Atwell, of Fly Creek, said a care partner, in some ways, shares in having the illness because that person is there for moral support, encouragement and coming up with solutions. There are no breaks, he said. A care partner is typically someone closely connected to the one needing care, he added.
Atwell said a caregiver can be a close friend or family member, but can also be hired. Caregivers generally perform tasks such as bathing someone, he explained.
“Nobody can be hired to be a care partner because nobody can provide what a loved one can,” he said. When Atwell’s wife, Anne Geddes- Atwell, was diagnosed with breast cancer in late March 2010, he thought he could handle it because he had gone through it once before with his first wife.
“I thought, oh, I can do this, but that wasn’t 20 years ago, and I didn’t have Parkinson’s,” he said. Geddes-Atwell said the pressure got to her husband setting him into panic attacks. “He became almost dysfunctional,” she said.
Atwell said he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for three years and probably had had the disease for three or four years before that.
“I launched into it (care giving) with all sorts of good will,” he said. “With Parkinson’s, stress drains you. I couldn’t breathe at one point, and collapsed once.”
Atwell was taken to the emergency room three times with heart symptoms and, combined with a poor cardiac family history, was hospitalized two of those times. When describing his experience of being taken to the cardiac unit at Bassett Hospital, he said he laid flat on a gurney while gasping and making sounds as if he had swallowed a clarinet. “You can have a panic attack and not even be aware,” he said. “I felt like I was dying. It felt that intense. I guess I was not as equipped as I thought I was.”
Geddes-Atwell, who chose to go through chemo theoropy and radiation treatments to fight her stage one cancer, said the well-being of a care partner is of great importance.
“They can’t be any good to you if they are running themselves ragged,” she said.” It is in everyone’s best interest to keep a caregiver healthy and happy.” The thing that most people don’tconsider as they get older is there is a good chance of something going wrong with a care partner, Geddes- Atwell said.
“My advice to those going through a similar situation is to plan ahead,” she said. “There should be some sort of support system.”
Atwell said sometimes caregivers or care partners do not realize when they are running themselves down. He said when his first wife was battling cancer he was lucky to have the help of Hospice care.
“That was a godsend,” he said.
But even with assistance, Atwell said staff got so concerned with his well-being as a care partner that they told him he needed to get out of the house for a few days. “I lived in Maryland at the time and came up here to Fly Creek, where we owned a place, and went to sleep for 24 hours straight,” he said. “You can’t get lost in your own love for a partner.”
Geddes-Atwell said she feels lucky because her cancer was caught early. “Bassett’s Cancer Center went into high gear,” she said. “A lumpectomy was arranged with consultancies in surgery, and in both chemo and radiation departments to help me in my decisions.”
At the age of 67, Geddes- Atwell went through four chemo treatments and 30 radiation treatments. By opting to do them, she said, her chances of the cancer coming back was lowered.
“There is always a chance it could come back, but there is a less than 10 percent chance now,” she said.
With Genome testing of the biopsy sample, Geddes- Atwell was told that her cancer was not genetic.
Geddes-Atwell said no lymph nodes were involved in her cancer, so much thought went into deciding whether to go through treatment. She said she called around to get other people’s opinions and decided it would be better to be safe than sorry.
Geddes-Atwell said she is about 80 percent through with her recovery. “I’m still getting my energy back,” she said. According to Geddes- Atwell, the experience has reprioritized the way she thinks. She said it is what inspired her to run for town of Otsego supervisor. Atwell said he was amazed by how fast Bassett got on top of the cancer.
“As soon as there was any suspicion it was like a SWAT squad flew in,” he said. The Bassett Cancer Center was unbelievable, according to Geddes-Atwell.
“I felt so safe there as if there would be no germs,” she said. “I don’t know how staff goes in there each day so upbeat when they know there is a good chance a patient may die. They don’t show fear or any negative emotions. I was so afraid of that, but it never happened.”
Geddes-Atwell said she is a big supporter of annual mammograms because that is how her cancer was caught. She added that she and her husband cannot thank members of the community enough for all the support that has been provided to them.
“Jim and I pronounce it a gifted, caring, neighborly community where we areglad to be living. We know that we are not the only recipients who are cared for by this community,” Geddes- Atwell said.
A low percentage of women are willing to talk about their cancer, according to Geddes-Atwell. She is an exception however, because she and her husband will be speaking at the Cooperstown/ Northern Otsego County Relay for Life on Friday.
The event, in its 14th year, is going to focus on caregivers. Charwoman Carla Eckler said the Atwells were chosen to speak at the opening ceremony, scheduled for 6 p.m., because of the public awareness Atwell created in his weekly Crier column. “Caregivers have no boundaries,” Eckler said.
“They give support unconditionally to people whatever the disease — whether it be cancer or otherwise.”
Relay for Life is an overnight celebration of hope and survivorship. Festivities will be held Friday and Saturday at the Cooperstown Dreams Park. The public is invited to the opening ceremony, as well as the survivor lap and survivor dinner that follows, a haircutting ceremony at 7 p.m. to benefit wigs for women who have lost their hair during cancer treatment, the Fight Back ceremony at 8 p.m. and the luminaria ceremony at 8:30 p.m. A continental breakfast by donation for the public and participants will take place from 5 to 7 a.m. A closing ceremony will start at 7 a.m.
BY MICHELLE MILLER
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