The Impact of Being a Young Caregiver

Adam Walker (00:03):
From Susan G Komen, this is real pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room. Caregiving can be a difficult and very personal role on many levels, assisting a loved one through their cancer diagnosis, helping with daily activities, providing support and helping to make treatment decisions may all be a part of their responsibilities. When young adults are the caregiver taking care of a parent, they face many unique challenges, such as having more duties to juggle, starting their own families and careers. And coming to terms with taking care of someone that has always taken care of them. Today’s guest Ashley Deadman supported both of our parents and their cancer journeys, and is here today to speak about the challenges and blessings of that time in her life, as well as how it impacted her approach to her own health. Ashley, welcome to the show.

Ashley Dedmon (01:00):
Thank you, Adam. I’m excited to join you today.

Adam Walker (01:03):
I’m really excited to talk to you. I know, I know you, you’re very involved with Cohen. You’ve been involved for a long time, and now you, you work at Komen, right?

Ashley Dedmon (01:12):
I do. I do. I work Rick Bowman. I work in the African-American health equity initiative.

Adam Walker (01:18):
Well, thank you for the work that you’re doing there. And we talked about that, the need for that many times on this show, and I really appreciate the work that you’re doing in that space. So let’s talk about you. So how old were you when your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in what was happening in your life at that time,

Ashley Dedmon (01:36):
Adam, I was 18 years old when my mother was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer. I was a senior in high school and on my way to college with a full volleyball scholarship it was a time when you’re supposed to be excited and happy and I was but my mother was at home battling for her life. And so but the time that I spent with her I never looked at it as me missing out on my college experience, but rather a blessing to be able to spend more time with her.

Adam Walker (02:10):
That’s so important. And that, that perspective is so critical. And I imagine it would have been easy to look at it as a burden and instead you chose the positive spin and that’s just amazing. So tell us about that moment that you decided to be a caregiver for your mom. And what did that mean for you and your family?

Ashley Dedmon (02:31):
You know, I can remember remember it just like it was yesterday. I was a freshman in college. I was at volleyball practice. It was two a days. And I remember I was working out on the weekend and I asked myself, what are you doing? You should be at home. And I kinda just had that conversation with myself and I just said, you know what, you’re right. And I walked over to my coach and I thanked her for believing in me. But I, her, I quit. And I got my stuff. I walked out the gym, I called my dad and I told him I quit. And he was like, what? He said, you quit school. And I said, no, dad, I didn’t quit school. I just told him I had decided that I didn’t want to play volleyball and that I wanted to, and I needed to be at home with mom.

Ashley Dedmon (03:22):
And that was what was most important to me. And I look back on it, Adam, and it was the best decision I ever made. My dad was a high school, high school football coach at the time. And in Texas, if you’re a football coach that can take up a lot of your weekends. And so I wanted him to focus on work. I wanted to be there for my mom. And in the end, that was the best decision. Both of my parents work during the week while I was at school. And so on Fridays, I would meet my mom at chemo and I’d stay with her while my dad was at work and he’d come home immediately after the games that we could all be there for her.

Adam Walker (04:02):
Wow. So I just want to touch on something for a moment, sir. I think I heard you say in that story, that your decision, your, this lightening moment, this lightening realization happened and you immediately decided and, and move forward, there was no deliberation. It was just that it was that quick. Is that what you’re saying?

Ashley Dedmon (04:20):
It was that quick. It was, what are you doing here? This is the weekend, you know, and it was, it was, it was, it wasn’t even hard because really the scholarship was paying my way through school and that didn’t matter. It was being with my mom, everything else I would figure out later. And I did, I figured it out. But it was no regret. It was, I quit and I can, I can honestly say I’ve never quit anything in life and I don’t even think or look at it as I quit volleyball. I just told my mom

Adam Walker (04:51):
That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. You didn’t, you chose your mom, you chose your mom. Wow. That is so amazing. I’m so impressed. So what did being a caregiver look like throughout your mom’s breast cancer journey and how were you able to help and support her?

Ashley Dedmon (05:09):
Being a caregiver was caring for my mother who was sick. It was also caring for my father who was caring for her with my mother, it was going with her to chemo, picking up food, running errands for her laying in the bed with her. And during that time I would either sleep or study or we watch TV, or we just talk about boys and college and, you know, just fun, conversational things. And in the end of her journey, it was it was carrying her to the restroom. It was helping her babe. It was helping her with those basic necessities that we take for granted that she physically could no longer, but for me it was an honor to do cause she was my mom for my father. It was making sure that he was okay. It was checking in with him, giving him a break. And I felt like me being there with my mom really allow him to focus on work. Because there were times she had to stop working. So it was it, I think it was that relief of knowing that I was there, that he could really focus on work and know that my mom was well taken care of.

Adam Walker (06:33):
That’s so important, so important. And, and it’s, it’s a team, right. It’s being, being a family. Yeah. And I, speaking of your father, I mean, I understand that your father was diagnosed with cancer shortly after you lost your mother. And so then you stepped into caring for him on multiple levels. I mean, can you tell us a little bit more about that as well?

Ashley Dedmon (06:53):
Yes. So my father was so dedicated and devoted to my mother’s care. In those four years, he, Adam actually forgot about his own health. And a few months after my mom died, my father called me while I was on campus. And told me he had cancer. At that moment, my heart dropped. I remember asking myself what is going on in my family. My great grandmother, my grandmother and my mother all died from breast cancer. And now my father was telling me he had cancer. And that really led me to asking about my own health. I really felt like I was next. I felt like I was going to die. And so I was just about to graduate at the end of that month. And so I decided to move back home and lived home and live and live at home. Because I knew my dad was still grieving. And now he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. And so it was best that I moved back home with him to help him through his journey. He had his prostate removed and he’s a thriving prostate cancer survivor.

Adam Walker (08:09):
Oh, that’s great. I’m so glad to hear that. And I love, I love your commitment to family and how you, how you’ve been so supportive. That’s just so encouraging to hear. So to say that you went through a lot, is an understatement. How are you able to process all of your emotions and even find time to grieve at such a young and impactful age?

Ashley Dedmon (08:31):
That’s a good question. And I had to really kind of come to grips with myself and really realize, and I, I, my, my grieving was delayed if that makes it I really didn’t grieve fully until about two or three years later. I mean, after losing my mother, I was so focused on helping my transition now to a life without his wife. And then a couple of months later helping to net helping him navigate through his own cancer journey. And at the same time, I was beginning my career as a teacher and really trying to figure out the biggest question of at all. And that was, was cancer coming for me. And I actually realized probably about a year ago that I had been, I had been angry towards cancer for tearing my family apart. And so when you say, you know, the emotional and mental impact it’s, it’s a journey, it’s an ongoing journey because you, you know, while you go through it immediately but over the years, you still those, those feelings and those emotions and experiences still impact you.

Adam Walker (09:50):
Yeah. Wow. And you talked about how you felt like, you know, like cancer’s coming for you. I mean, what impact did that have on your life and how do you now approach your own health?

Ashley Dedmon (10:03):
So both of my parents were educators. I was an educator for 10 years. And so I knew if I had questions I needed to educate myself and ask the right people, the right questions to get the answers I needed about my own health. And that’s what I did.

Adam Walker (10:23):
Mm that’s. Right. It’s so important. And that’s why we’re doing this podcast. And that’s one of the reasons that go and does so much of what we do is to educate into inform and to have a trusted place that people can go and get information. Right.

Ashley Dedmon (10:38):

Adam Walker (10:39):
So, so Ashley, last question. What advice do you have for our listeners who might not know the best way to support someone who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer? How can they best help them? How can they also take care of themselves in that process?

Ashley Dedmon (10:55):
Absolutely. I would say first to a teen caregiver or a young caregiver, it’s important to know it’s not your fault. There’s nothing that you did to cause the cancer diagnosis, nor is there anything that you can do to hear them, but to love them, to support them and to be present. And for all caregivers, it’s important to have someone who cares for you a caregiver for the caregiver. And they’re, they’re going to be times where you need to step away for a mental or emotional, just kind of check in with yourself. I also learned that I couldn’t take things personal. My mom was dying and there were times she tried to push me away because she didn’t want to see her. She didn’t want her daughter to see her slowly dying. And as loving and as caring as my mother was, there were times she really neat. But that meant I had to love her harder. And finally, I would say to ask for help from your family members, church members, coworkers, and community because it’s okay to need and ask for help.

Adam Walker (12:11):
Wow. Ashley, that is such amazing advice and so important and such and such a really great perspective on the ups and the downs and the difficulties of caregiving. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. We’re going to have you on the show again next week, talking a little bit more about your own health and about being empowered through testing. So I’m excited about that and thank you so much for joining us on the show today.

Ashley Dedmon (12:40):
Thank you, Adam. I look forward to it.

Adam Walker (12:47):
Thanks for listening to real pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen for more episodes, visit real for more on breast cancer. Visit Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at AGA Walker or on my blog. Adam J