By Sherrin Fitzer

I am a caregiver, always have been.

I have cared for friends and lovers, worked in helping fields and volunteered for agencies that help people and animals. I have been a teacher and now work at a women’s prison with the women and their children. I have volunteered for The Humane Society, AIDS Task Force, Planned Parenthood and more.

I am not accustomed to allowing others to care for me.

In September of 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer and I am now going through chemotherapy. I have had to drastically change my attitude toward allowing people to help me. Well, I guess I did not have to, but have chosen to.

The first test occurred when I discovered that while having chemo my doctor did not want me to change my cats’ litter boxes. I went running up to my friend in the lobby saying “I can get chemotherapy; I won’t be able to clean the litter boxes.” She looked at me as I if I had lost my mind. An amazing group of friends stepped up and organized a litter box cleaning crew. A different woman comes each day and cleans the boxes. The first day that I had to sit on the couch and listen to her cleaning was excruciating. It felt horrible knowing they were in there cleaning those disgusting boxes.

You see that I am writing this in May; that’s a lot of litter boxes cleaned. I chose to get over it. I appreciate them so much, and would have made myself sick emotionally if I continued to feel badly about their help.

The litter boxes however were not my only challenge. Often these amazing women would call me before they came over and ask if I needed anything. My instinct was to say “no.” They were already coming over to clean litter boxes; I did not want to inconvenience them further.  There were however times I did want or need something—a cup of coffee, a prescription.

 I slowly let myself say “yes.”

I said “yes” to them bringing me a cup of coffee, going grocery shopping for me, and walking my dog. I have said “yes” to pedicures and Reiki. I have received more hats than I can count. The Chaplain at the prison where I work bought me two weeks of Seattle Sutton veggie meals. Sometimes people go with me to doctor’s appointments, so that have a second ear with me.

Packages come from all over the country—hats, jewelry, music, coloring books.  Some are from people I know in person; some are sent anonymously and some from people I know only through Facebook.

I have been stunned by my encounters with strangers. I am rocking my bald, beautiful head, so that is how people know I am going through chemo I assume. People have offered me seats and allowed me to sit down while they held my place in line. When my friend picked up my prescription for me, the cashier took the time to write a joke on my envelope. A woman helped me on with my coat, saying she wanted to be a blessing to someone that day. Well, we ended up in a big hug as she whispered in my ear: That is really what I wanted to do the whole time. Another time I went to pay for my dinner only to be told that the gentleman who had just walked out of the door already paid for it.

People are good.

There are many pieces of wisdom that I know intellectually, but have not internalized. Women at the prison have often discussed care giving with me. They love to care for others, and are not comfortable allowing others to do the same for them. I ask them how they feel when they help someone and they inevitably say how wonderful it makes them feel. I point out to them that when they deny care from others they are denying these people the chance to also experience this great feeling.

Many wonderful things have stemmed from the litter box cleaning crew.

I get to see a wonderful woman each day. We are often able to visit when they have the time in their schedules. Wonderful conversations occur and friendships are deepening. I live with a shy cat who has come out of his shell and now sits on many of their laps. What a great thing! One of the women sent me a card in which she wrote: It is a gift to care for you as you give so much of your energy to others in the pursuit of justice and spreading love. This brought/brings tears to my eyes

Now I have an opportunity to continue to internalize this lesson of being cared for. Sometimes while I am falling asleep I have a huge grin on my face and feel grateful, appreciated, and comforted.



Photo: Tamakl Sono/Flickr

Editor: Alicia Wozniak