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Devoted caregivers deserve thanks, praise

We hear a lot about heroes in our culture. But there are a lot of unsung heroes, wives who care for their ailing husbands, quietly and without complaint.

My wife has been my silent, selfless caregiver for more than 25 years, much of that time while fighting her own private battles with various cancers.

Our medical odyssey began in 1979, the year we were married. My wife became a caregiver as soon as we returned from our honeymoon, looking after me during three back operations between 1979 and 1981. Two of them were unsuccessful.

For 18 months, I spent 23 hours a day lying on the floor. My wife was a homemaker and caregiver all that time. After the third operation, she finally got some deserved relief.

Fifteen years later, she was called on to be a caregiver again, when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that put me down for more than five years.

Then, during my recovery, she became a patient herself. She suffered in silence through two female cancers. I became her caregiver, though I couldn't begin to compare with her in this regard.

Going out in public was always hard for my wife during those times. People always asked about my health, unaware of what she was going through medically. But that's the way she preferred it. She wanted her ordeal to remain private.

In 2001, she had to take care of me once more, after I fell down a steep embankment behind our house and suffered broken ribs and a broken collarbone. I was fortunate not to have been injured more seriously. Again, my wife came to my rescue.

Two months after recovering from my accident, I was diagnosed with an enlarged aortic valve in my heart. I had a cow valve transplant at the Cleveland Medical Center and my loving wife became a caregiver again.

After recovering, I developed an infection in the valve. Again, she became my Nurse Betty. For the first three weeks after my return from Cleveland, she had to give me a daily injection of antibiotics at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. This was all very nerve-wracking for her.

Recently, my caregiver has become the patient again. My wife has suffered recurring episodes of cancer. Again, she has handled it privately and with silent dignity.

But I believe it's time to thank her publicly for being a wonderful wife, mother of three and grandmother of five for all these years, as well as my constant caregiver. I don't know where I would be without her.

When we're out in public, it still bothers me when people ask about my health, because I know she has battled her health problems without a similar outpouring of comfort and attention. I hope she doesn't get mad at me for letting out her secret this way, but I hope she understands this is one small way in which I can return the love and comfort she has given to me through the years.

Please do my wife a great favor: If you have a caregiver in your life, please give him or her a big hug and thank you. My wife and I have been blessed throughout our ordeal because we have each other.

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