Guest Story: Caregiving Through Cancer

“I would not be here without her.” These are the words I heard Jim M. say about his cancer experience and his wife Sheril, when I sat down with them for a conversation in early March. The couple from Richmond, Virginia stayed at Caring House for five weeks for Jim’s radiation treatment at Duke Cancer Institute, and chatting with them is an unexpected blessing.

Jim is reserved, quiet, and quick to reveal his self-deprecating humor, but it doesn’t take much time for him to open up when we start talking about his love for reading. Sheril is uplifting, warm, and a natural caregiver. If Jim has anything remotely negative to say about himself and his treatment journey, Sheril is at the ready with a positive twist or new perspective to share. She looks at Jim with a deep love for him, smiling and laughing at his jokes, and sharing stories with me of how Jim has played a big part in his granddaughter’s life. 

Jim is constantly praising his wife, beaming at her kind spirit, and expressing his gratitude for her numerous times throughout our conversation. 

Like a perfectly balanced teeter-totter, the two complement each other. 

Communal living wasn’t what Jim and Sheril had in mind during their time in Durham, but of their experience here, they mention the kindness of staff and other guests, the generous volunteer meals, and impromptu group prayers. “It’s a wonderful place. I was doubtful of coming here, but you could sense right away that this is a unique place. And worth the experience,” said Jim. 

“And the day we walked in, to walk in the door and smell the fresh baked cookies – it makes it feel like home,” added Sheril. 

Going through cancer treatment is often a scary, isolating, and exhausting experience. For many of our guests at Caring House, bringing a caregiver with them is a huge source of support during their stay. And not only do patients receive additional support from Caring House’s community environment, but caregivers are able to connect with other caregivers – a unique and valuable experience that is extremely helpful when a loved one is going through cancer.

While Jim focuses on healing and rest, Sheril has jumped into helping others – going grocery shopping for those without transportation, helping to prepare meals, and offering companionship to other guests. Their stay at Caring House has re-awakened her passion for volunteering, something she says she is looking forward to doing once they return to Virginia.

At Caring House, everyone helps each other pull through the ups and downs of the cancer journey, and caregivers are given the space to realize they are not alone. While support is abundant when you walk through our doors, it is always heartwarming to see how love is shared between patients and their caregivers. How acts of encouragement and companionship can carry patients through treatment. 

There is a resounding focus to every answer Jim gives throughout our conversation. All I hear is gratefulness for Sheril, when he’s felt like he’s resigned to his medical issues. 

A thoughtful pause.

“She’s kept me going, she really has.”

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Written by Kristen Luft, Communications Associate