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My Cancer Patient Caregiver and Life Coach Journey for my Aunt with Lung Cancer

In this segment of the Cancer Interviews podcast, Sayen Gates shares her journey as the cancer patient caregiver and life coach for her aunt who was diagnosed with lung cancer.


When Sayen Gates’ aunt was diagnosed with lung cancer, life changed for both women, as Sayen became her aunt’s patient caregiver.  Sayen spoke to Cancer Interviews to provide the perspective of a cancer patient caregiver. 


From Columbia, South Carolina, Sayen is a life coach.  For fun, Sayen loves to roller skate.  She thinks it’s a great way to release energy and to shut out the noise, especially when she puts on a set of headphones.


Sayen says the news of her aunt’s diagnosis came to her in a dream before her aunt actually disclosed the news.  Sayen’s mom said her mom told Sayen that Sayen’s aunt had had a cold for a while and didn’t know why.  Various over-the-counter remedies were tried, but the cold persisted.  Then Sayen’s mom said Sayen’s aunt went to get a scan which revealed something in her lung.  Sayen woke up crying from a dream, saw her mom crying in the kitchen, asked if there was anything her mom needed to tell her.  That is when Sayen was told by her mom that her aunt had Stage IV lung cancer.


Sayen Gates said she knew that this diagnosis was something she couldn’t control and wanted to concentrate on that which she could control.  She wanted to try to find a silver lining in this dire situation, so she asked her aunt what she wanted for her “victory dinner”, because she and her aunt were going to beat lung cancer.  Her aunt responded with laughing and giggling.  At that time, Sayen said to herself that through this process, she could not be sad and at all times had to be strong without being over-emotional.


Sayen said from the start the family determined that she would run point on the care for her aunt as Sayen had gone to school to be a medical assistant.  One of her first tasks was figuring out how to make her aunt eat because after her diagnose all she wanted to consume was water or ice.  Sayen knew her aunt couldn’t eat her favorite, Chinese food, and that according to the doctor, Sayen couldn’t feed her aunt’s cancer, she had to starve it.  Sayen and her family made sure her aunt “ate clean,” and that her aunt took her breathing treatments and any other medications she was supposed to take.  Then things took a drastic turn for the worse.


Sayen’s aunt one day felt she could not breathe and began to panic.  Sayen told her aunt that her aunt needed to try to breathe slow and easily, because if she panicked, she would not be able to breathe at all.  Her aunt was able to breathe slowly and easily, but Sayen said her aunt needed to be taken to the hospital.  Once hospitalized, Sayen’s aunt remained there for a couple weeks.  Once she came back home, she had knots in her arms, which a nurse said the knots came from her allergic reaction to the medication she was taking.  The doctor wanted her aunt to stay on her medication and to continue to take her breathing treatments.


Once her aunt was back home, Sayen Gates put her on a schedule for her medication and a chart outside her bedroom listing the medication that needed to be given and when it needed to be given.  Sayen also made sure her aunt only drank organic beverages and nothing processed. 


Providing care for her aunt wasn’t easy for Sayen.  She had to be up early in the morning to go to work, but some nights she had to be by her aunt’s side.  When she was sure her aunt was asleep, then Sayen would go back to her room to get some sleep. 


Through all this, Sayen did her best to set aside some ‘me’ time.  Her ‘me’ time largely consisted of meditation, yoga and prayer.


As her aunt reached survivorship, Sayen said for all the challenges provided by her aunt’s cancer journey, she would gladly embrace the caregiving experience again.


Additional Resources:


Sayen’s life coach website:




Bruce Morton: Once our guest’s aunt was diagnosed with lung cancer, life changed for both ladies.  Our guest is Sayen Gates of Columbia, South Carolina, and we are going to hear about a cancer journey from Sayen’s perspective, the perspective of a caregiver.  So, here she is, and Sayen, welcome to the Cancer Interviews podcast.


Sayen Gates: Hi, and thanks for having me.  I am excited to be here.


BM: And we look forward to hearing your story.  The first thing we like to do on our interviews is learn a bit about our guests, and their lives away from cancer.  So, if you would, Sayen, tell us about where you are from, how you make your living, and what you like to do for fun.


SG: I am from Columbia, South Carolina, I am a Shadow Life Coach, and I am also an alternative medicine spirit.  I like to go skating because my father used to take my cousins and I like skating to get the energy out, a way to shut out the noise, especially when put on headsets.  It is just you, yourself and the spirit.


BM: Wonderful.  Now we want to get to your life’s involvement with cancer.  When you first learned of aunt’s diagnosis, did this news come suddenly or did you have some awareness of the situation that prepared you mentally and emotionally?


SG: When I got the news of my aunt having lung cancer, it came in a dream first before she actually told me because my mom said my aunt had had a cold for a while and didn’t know why.  We had tried everything, Coricidin, green alcohol, witch hazel, anything a Southern gal knows about getting rid of a cold, but seemed like the cold persisted.  Then my mom said my aunt went to get a scan and they found something in her lung.  When they went in to biopsy it, I had a very intense dream where God was showing me different people and when my aunt’s face came up, my father was next to her.  That gave me two sides, either (a) he is going to look out for her this time that she is sick, or (b) something is not right.  So, I woke up crying and I heard my mom crying in the kitchen.  I asked my mom if there was something she needed to tell me.  That’s when my mom told me my aunt has Stage IV lung cancer. 


BM: Once that dream became reality, what went through your mind?


SG: The first thing that came to my mind is that I was slightly upset at my dad because I told him every time he comes over, someone has died or somebody’s in danger.  Then I thought that these things cannot be controlled, and it is not up to us to try to control them and the best thing I can do is try to be myself.  I know that for me, the one thing, and my father had in common, we would always try to find the humor and the silver lining in things.  I asked my aunt what she wanted for her victory dinner, she could have whatever she wanted, because we are going to beat this.  She started laughing and giggling.  I said at this time I can’t be sad.  I have to be the strong person right now.  I want to be the rock for her, and not try to be over-emotional.  I don’t believe in that.  You do all you can, you can’t do anything else. 


BM: We’re confident you’ll be able to learn some tips and tools to help you through your cancer journey, but first we would like to invite you to please give us a ‘like,’ leave a comment or review below and share this story with your friends.  Kindly click on the Subscribe button and click on the bell icon, so you’ll be notified the next time we post an interview.  And if you or a loved one are facing a cancer journey, please click on the link in the description and Show Notes below to check out our free guide, “The Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I First Got Cancer.”


Sayen, at the time of your aunt’s diagnosis, was it a given that you would be the primary caregiver or were there others who were going to pitch in?


SG: It was a given because I had gone to school as a medical assistant.  I always asked my teachers questions.  I asked one of the teachers, a nurse, what I could do.  She passed along a lot of knowledge from there.  Then there was a friend of mine who is very big on holistic medicine and he said one thing that you could get her to do was drink okra water, which has a certain antioxidant in okra that is supposed to be able to isolate cancer cells and it is supposed stop cancer in its tracks, if you eat it regularly.  At first, she didn’t drink it.  The majority of the time she wanted water or to eat ice, but I had to figure out how to make her eat.  We knew she couldn’t eat her regular Chinese food anymore and we knew you were not supposed to feed the cancer, you are supposed to starve it, according to the doctor.  I was going to follow the doctor’s instructions.  We made sure that she ate clean, we prepped her food, and me, my mom and my aunt’s two children, we all made sure that my aunt took her breathing treatments, any medication she was supposed to take, but in the process of doing that, some things took a drastic turn.  We noticed one day when she felt she could not breathe, and she was starting to panic.  My mom yelled to me on the other side of the room.  I told my aunt she would have to breathe slowly and slow and easy breaths because if you panic, you won’t be able to breathe.  She began to take slow and easy breaths, but I told my mom we were going to have to call the hospital because we cannot leave my aunt like this.  She didn’t want to go,and my mom didn’t want to send her, but my mom knew there was not much we could do here.  Trying to give her breathing treatments will only help for a little while.  We ended up having to send her to the hospital and we didn’t see her for a week or two.  When she came back, she had knots on her arms, and we were trying to figure out where they came from.  So, they sent over a nurse, and they said the knots came from her allergic reaction to the medication she was taking.  The doctor wanted to keep my aunt on the medication and wanted to make sure that she continued to take her breathing treatments.  I asked the nurse if there was any way we could do something to counteract the side effects or at least try to get her to where she could be walking because at this time, she didn’t want to get out of bed.  The nurse said perhaps physical therapy is a possibility, so that way she can get used to getting out of bed because after awhile, we had been helping her get in and out of bed and on to the pot, back into bed, sit her up where she could eat, just all the initial things.


BM: There’s lots of information on the internet to help those diagnosed with cancer, but for caregivers, not so much or not as much.  You seemed like you were prepared for everything that came your way and you said you had the guidance of a trusted nurse, but is there anyplace else that provided the information you needed?


SG: I always tried to keep the nurse that we had on speed dial because she was very knowledgeable about what she did.  She was excellent.  Hands down, the best nurse I have seen.  I put my aunt on a medicine schedule and put a little chart on the outside of her door to see what time she was supposed to get her medication, and whoever was available could give it to her.  At the time I was doing medical transport during COVID.  I had to go to nursing home when there was a COVID outbreak, or they had just gotten over one.  For that reason, I didn’t want to take COVID to my mom.  Another thing, don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether it be to the doctor or someone who was a cancer survivor, what they did.  When I asked my friend about holistic directions to go, he was very thorough, saying we should make we not let her drink anything processed, make sure everything she has is organic or fresh.  You don’t want anything to feed the cancer, you want it to starve.


BM: Again, it sounds like you were prepared for just about anything that came your way.  Little or nothing caught you by surprise.  But, in your caregiver role, what was its toughest part?


SG: The toughest part was having to stay up with my aunt at night when I had to go to work early the next morning.  There would be some times when she would have these episodes when she felt like she was being attacked.  I could hear her calling my name down the hall, so I would run down the hall, sit with her and she would ask if I would pray with her.  I would ask God to act on her behalf, keep her safe.  When I knew she was sound asleep, I would go back to my room and go to sleep.  It was the first night when she was going through the breathing treatment that she didn’t want to sleep in her own bed.  She wanted to sleep on the living room sofa.  She said she didn’t want to be a burden to all of us.  We said she wasn’t a burden.  We may not have had cancer, but when we were sick, she helped us.  I told her I wasn’t going to sleep until my aunt went to sleep.  So, she slept on one half of the sofa, and I slept on the other half just in case she needed me.


BM: Sayen, here’s a part of the equation we don’t hear a lot about.  Some of the patients we have interviewed have said their cancer journey was tougher on their caregiver than it was on themselves.  Here you are, providing a heaping helping of support for your aunt, but while this was going on, who was providing support for you?


SG: At the time, my boyfriend, my friends at the time, and spirit.  I had to learn how to separate not just being the caregiver, but being a human being with feelings.  The one thing that I learned as a caregiver, especially if you have been a chronic people pleaser, you always place someone else’s feelings above your own; I tried to make sure when she was not in need from me, I did yoga, I did meditation, I made sure that I prayed.  I made sure that I went outside when I could.


BM: Sayen, knowing what you now know about the caregiver experience, I assume it is more than you knew when you started, looking back, would you do anything differently?


SG: In all honesty, I would do it again.  My aunt was someone special to me.  She accepted me as I was, goofy, silly, amusing, unique, however it was that I identified.  Between her and my mom, she was with me when I was trying to understand my status in the LGBTQ+ community, and I loved her for that.  Not many people knew about my being bisexual.  She kinda figured it out later.  She just wanted me to be okay.  My boyfriend was very supportive.  The one thing I would do differently, I would have gotten a different doctor.  I would have sought a second opinion, but I couldn’t do much of anything because I didn’t have Power of Attorney, and I could only give as much advice as I gave because as a medical assistant, I could not diagnose a patient.  I have to give what I see to the doctor and pray that he can see as much as you can.  We kept the same nurse throughout, but I wish we could have changed the doctor.  I would gladly do it again.


BM: Sayen, we are about to wrap up, but we want to shine on a way in which you help others.  Tell us about your venture, Shadow Corner Life Coaching.


SG: Shadow Corner Life Coaching started out with vlogs, with my talking about my experiences of trauma and heartache and everything.  Then it evolved into me giving advice on situations that would help you through those times.  Then I asked myself why don’t I do this full time?  I ended up opening my practice in May 2023 and then from there, I got my website,  I am now taking clients and trying to help people.  What I do is help to deconstruct and reconstruct the mindset that you have.  Sometimes it is not an easy task to do.  Other times it may take more than one session.  In any case, I am here to help, and I am going to use the same serving tactics I had as a caregiver to do with my clients.


BM: Excellent.  Sayen, thanks so much for sharing your story, how you have helped your aunt and how you seek in the present and future to help others.  Thanks so much for being with us on Cancer Interviews.


SG: No problem.


BM: And as we always say when we wrap up, if you or a loved one are on a cancer journey, you are not alone.  There are people out there like Sayen, who are there to help you and hopefully make that cancer journey a little bit easier.  So, until next time, we’ll see you on down the road.


Additional Resources:


Shadow Corner Life Coaching:



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