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Don Henderson and Cathy Schmidt: Patient and Caregiver Make Pro-Active Team

Don Henderson and Cathy Schmidt

While Don Henderson was going through his treatment for prostate cancer, he was an “unhappy camper,” says his wife, Cathy Schmidt. She admits being a bit of a Pollyanna, always so optimistic about Don having “the most curable cancer on the planet.”  But Don needed time to process having cancer and empathy for the difficulties he was facing.

“I ain’t got this,” he would tell her, “this is whipping my butt,” he’d say, referring to his nine weeks of nearly daily radiation treatments.  He was also suffering from fatigue and unrelated but very bothersome gastrointestinal symptoms.  So he had a long stretch of time when he was very tired and very uncomfortable. 

Cathy tried cheering him up with a trip to the North Georgia mountains, and it was a “disaster,” hot and uncomfortable. Together, they learned that during and after treatment, it helps to know your limits.

“Learn as much about cancer as you can,” they agreed. Their care team at their LaGrange hospital gave them a huge cancer notebook with everything they needed to know from A-Z.  It explained al the options, side effects, and offered advice on nutrition and counseling.  They also learned from talking to others, especially those in the treatment waiting room. It was helpful to hear that “I had that too,” or understanding “what came next,” or just being reassured that “being forgetful” if part of the process, “it’s not just you.”

Cathy learned to accept that being a caregiver could be very frustrating. You see your loved one going through such a difficult time and you feel like there is nothing you can do.  “You have to learn to be kind to yourself,” she says, “and that caregivers also need to ask for help.”

Don admits he was very lucky.  He was diagnosed in 2016 when his doctor noticed his PSA (prostate specific antigen) numbers were starting to rise. So, his cancer was diagnosed early, when it is more treatable.  He was so grateful to have a great health care team in LaGrange so that he didn’t have to travel for care. And the team—the oncologist, radiologist, gastroenterologist, and cardiologist – all worked together, sharing information with each other and with him and his wife. “There were very few surprises,” he says, “the doctors were very pro-active and very good about keeping us informed.”

“It was really helpful to hear that the recovery period could be up to six months,” Don and Cathy agreed. Just because his treatment was over didn’t mean that he was “back to normal.”  He does “stuff” when he can, like taking a boat ride, doing yard work, fishing or doing woodworking.  But, sometimes, it means just taking it easy, not entertaining, and just staying close to home. 

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Advancing Cancer Care through Partnerships and Innovation

Georgia CORE is a statewide nonprofit that leverages partnerships and innovation to attract more clinical trials, increase research, and promote education and early detection to improve cancer care for Georgians in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the state.