Sandy Wilson will tell you that the eight years she spent caring for her husband Chuck while he was living with brain cancer were the most numbing and, at the same time, the richest years of her life…an irony that those familiar with cancer often express. While Sandy quickly learned the necessary tasks to cope and maintain some level of normalcy during Chuck’s periods of treatment, over time, she now realizes what really guided her and her family through those years and through the loss of Chuck in the summer of 2009 and wants to share that with others. Sandy is a caregiver and a caregiver advocate and says she learned much of what she knows through Chuck’s example.
From the start, Sandy took her cues from Chuck. His positive outlook, strength, faith, humor, openness, and willingness to talk honestly with others about both his life and their life challenges inspired Sandy to follow that lead. She also believes his positive approach helped enable him to survive 5 years past his expected survival.
Together they learned the importance of having a friend from outside the family to be present at appointments for note-taking. They established a process for how information about Chuck’s treatment and prognosis would be shared with their close circle of family and friends, whose continual presence Chuck and Sandy found critical to their journey. They learned to determine appropriate boundaries to harness the best of positive energy for the course. As Sandy found deep support in Chuck’s medical team and in the hot meals that church friends placed at her doorstep, she also learned the value of keeping a personal diary and the importance of finding time to do something for herself, something she loved: quilting.
Sandy learned to sew a quilt top prior to Chuck’s diagnosis, and sewing became her refuge late in the evenings following day-time hours of medical appointments and care for Chuck. One evening, she and Chuck began exploring the possibility of Sandy and her sewing group providing quilts to newly diagnosed cancer patients, extending to others a symbol of comfort. In less than a year, in 2005, Chuck had laid the groundwork for their nonprofit, Sewn-N-Love, and Sandy and her team were providing 50 quilts to cancer patients every 6 weeks. That powerful ministry continues today.
Sandy firmly believes that the greatest truth she and Chuck discovered during their devastating story was that giving back to others provided the greatest means of healing and coping. While Chuck openly mentored others who were struggling with the impact of cancer (from across the country, over the phone, and some of whom he never met) at the same time he was coping with his own treatment, Sandy continues to pore over each quilt she lovingly stitches and then hands it over to treatment centers for distribution to cancer patients. She mentors other caregivers and accompanies others to treatments and appointments, others who look to her inner strength and the wisdom that evolved during her lengthy experience. Sandy continues to follow advancements in cancer research and is an advocate for participation in clinical trials, which were non-existent for Chuck.
Sandy says, “”Trials are designed to help manage your cancer treatments. I would highly recommend asking about the trials that are available for your cancer. They provide some of the newest drugs and treatments available.””
She also recognizes the value of one-on-one support and guidance, from the moment of diagnosis. She says, “” I want to encourage anyone who is going through cancer to take time to go to The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation. There is a lot of information there to help you understand your particular cancer. The staff there is available for the cancer patient and the caregiver. Please take advantage of their free help.””