Unsung hero: the caregiver

Published 10:32 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Six years ago, Lynn Wehner’s life took a turn on April 3, 2012, when her husband, John, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The wife and mother added caregiver to her list of responsibilities.

After the diagnosis, the next few months were moving faster than Wehner could imagine.

“After several weeks of back and forth to his primary care physician and the emergency room, the emergency room said we needed to come back,” Wehner said. “The emergency room doctor had the job of telling us John has leukemia.”

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Within hours, Wehner’s husband was getting tests to see if he was healthy enough for chemotherapy, and the next morning he began treatment.

“Once we got the diagnosis it was like, ‘What?’” Wehner said. “That wasn’t even on our radar, and we were in awe.”

The diagnosis was the first step, but Wehner and her family never slowed down in their fight for remission. Wehner immediately immersed herself in information to learn as much as she could without being overwhelmed.

After her husband’s first round of chemotherapy, he went into remission, but Wehner didn’t stop going. Her husband had a genetic marker that was an indication that he was likely to relapse if other steps weren’t taken.

Within two weeks of recovering from the chemotherapy, the family was in Richmond consulting for a bone marrow transplant.

“He had to be within 30 miles of the hospital, and so we rented an apartment,” Wehner said. “My daughter was his full-time caregiver, and my son said he would take care of mom at the house.”

Her husband received the bone marrow transplant in September 2012.

Wehner was blessed to have supportive family, friends and coworkers during her journey as a caregiver. Her journey was also filled with her mother’s battle with brain cancer.

Being a Navy wife, she wasn’t close to her family geographically, but with her husband healing quickly, she had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with her mother near the end of her life.

Wehner’s experience with cancer had led her to participate with Relay for Life, and she had been participating since her old roommate from college had battled breast cancer. With the loss of her mother and her husband’s battle, Wehner was looking for a way to be involved in fighting back.

“We wanted to do something to give back and to fight back. So, we stepped up our involvement with Relay for Life,” Wehner said. “We initially participated with Sentara Obici’s team, and it was really quite emotional in May 2013 to be able to see John walk the initial lap as a survivor.”

Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society gave Wehner a place to lean on as a caregiver.

“As a caregiver, it’s nice to have the individual support for someone that is tired and needs to connect,” Wehner said.

The balancing act of taking care of a family and caring for a sick loved one, along with being unable to control the situation, was frustrating for Wehner, but that gave her a chance to learn to let go and not worry about an uncertain future.

Wehner learned an important lesson during her husband’s fight: it’s OK to ask for help.

“Allowing myself to feel what I was feeling at the moment was important,” Wehner said. “It was just taking the next breath and whatever the next one thing was, whether that was going for a walk or having a good cry.”

Wehner advises anyone going through the same thing to ask for help, no matter how it may feel.

“People want to help,” Wehner said.

Now Wehner has a healthy husband and lives her life a little more spontaneously.

“It’s been quite a journey, and I’m still figuring out the new normal,” Wehner said.