Chris Zimmer's Caregiver Story
Jim and I met at Best Products in Hurst, Texas in October 1984 and became fast friends. We were married on September 20, 1986. Our daughter Katharyn was born in April 1991. Jim and I were very different individuals, but we respected one another’s opinions and could agree to disagree. We knew what the other was thinking before they said it. Jim and I promised to love each other unconditionally and wholeheartedly forever.
In June 2015, Jim came home from work and asked me if he looked yellow. I realized he wasn’t just yellow, he was Homer Simpson yellow. He immediately went to the doctor and two weeks later was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. I felt like my world was falling apart around me. Jim, on the other hand, took the diagnosis in stride. I remember sitting in our den folding towels and crying a week after his diagnosis and Jim sitting on the foot stool in front of me and taking my hand. He patiently looked me in the eyes and said, “Stop crying. I am not dead yet. We still don’t know what we are up against, but if things aren’t good, how long do you need to be ready to let me go?” I told him two years. So he said to me, “Our goal is for me to survive this, but if I can’t, I promise I will fight as hard as I can for two years. We will work together to make sure you are prepared to let me go when and if the time comes.” So we made a plan. We promised to be honest and forthcoming about how we felt, to always remain optimistic and to never wallow in the potential outcome.
I am a list maker, so I developed a two-year plan, including Jim’s treatment, updating all of our legal documents, planning vacations and discussing what I would do if and when Jim passed. We had ups and downs, but my task was to help keep those downs to a minimum. To encourage Jim to continue to fight and to be optimistic, which towards the end was not an easy task. Cancer became our new normal.
Jim did the conventional chemotherapy treatments for the first year, and then his oncologist suggested we consider clinical trials. I began researching current clinical trials for pancreatic cancer and took charge of weeding through all the treatment options. Jim’s primary focus was to take care of himself physically and mentally. He continued to work until eight weeks before he passed.
Jim and I decided that the research at Mary Crowley Clinical Research was our best option. His oncologist referred us, and we began the steps to enter the clinical trial. In the brief time that Jim was on the clinical trial, the doctors, nurses and staff at Mary Crowley were wonderful. We felt everyone there genuinely cared for Jim and his well-being.
I did not give a second thought to being Jim’s caregiver. There were days that I was overwhelmed and exhausted. But there were days of love and happiness as well. Being the caregiver for a terminal patient is not easy. You must learn the process: everything from really knowing the doctors, to understanding insurance coverage, to sorting medications, to learning the easiest was to get to and from the various appointments. As the months passed and Jim’s health deteriorated, he became more and more dependent on me to handle everything. And I became more stressed. But we always communicated. Sometimes the conversations were brutally honest and could be hurtful; but in the end, we were honest with each other and respected each other. Sadly, our two-year plan came to an end on January 12, 2017, just a little short of two years, when Jim passed.
I want to be honest with you: I am sad, really sad. My love, the man who was my everything, is gone. There are days that I cry several times a day. But each day is a little better than the last. I am not going to get over losing him any time soon. We built an amazing life together. Now that our journey together is complete, I am embarking on a new journey without him. But because of the foundation that we built together, I will be able to get through the grieving process. The last two years were not the easiest years for us, certainly not care-free or stress-free. But we never lost sight of the promise that we made each other over 30 years ago, to love each other unconditionally and wholeheartedly. Because of this I have no regrets; I know in my heart that I did the best that I could do for him, and that on his deathbed he had no regrets either. Even though the outcome was not what we wanted, we faced it together.
Chris Zimmer on the importance of clinical trials:
I am a big supporter of clinical trials and believe that the cure for cancer will be found through this type of research. Less than 5% of cancer patients participate in clinical trials. Currently trial periods last 3-5 years, but if there was a 5% increase in participation, that time could be reduced to one year.*
I have reflected on Jim’s cancer treatment the last few months, and I wish that the option of participating in the clinical trial had been discussed with us in the beginning. I believe that participating in the clinical trial earlier would have not only benefitted Jim but also others who are suffering or will suffer from this disease as well.
*Source: “101 Facts about Cancer Research” by The Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation, July 2005