You’ll be one at some time in your life, whether you like it or not. And I’m not talking about the natural caregiver as a parent (which is a whole ‘nother blog). I’m talking about the one whose life is turned upside down, has a whole new ‘normal’ (sometimes with no end in sight), all the while living the day-to-day life that can go completely unnoticed by the world around him/her.
Even before my own cancer, I never knew how people did it. A sudden accident turns your child completely immobile. A flood takes away a home and forces you to care for your ailing mother. A terminal diagnosis given to your spouse that can last months or sometimes years. I had seen all of these and more before my own cancer and watched in awe as the caregivers adjusted their normal lives, in almost all cases, without hesitation to the new normal which few can describe but unfortunately many experience.
It wasn’t until my own cancer that I saw it. When you’re sick, friends and family want to help, as that is all they know they can do. (And let me tell you, as hard as it is, please let them bring you food, shop for your groceries, do your laundry, take your kids for the day. It all helps more than you know.) I am that person the moment I hear of a friend or loved one with cancer, doing anything I can to feel helpful. Yes, being the supplier of edibles and green relief counts.
But it is the true caregiver that I never want to be. I mean, of course I will, when the time comes. I know I will do my part and step up to the plate as best I can. However, it’s the standing on the sidelines, feeling helpless, watching as your loved one suffers, that I know will be the hardest. All the while, you cook the meals, keep up with the cleaning, manage life. Then there’s the emotions that we all feel but are the hardest to acknowledge. The feelings that emerge simply because we’re human that become the most overwhelming.
The feeling of guilt is one that I feel all the time, even without a tragedy. I blame it on being a Recovering Catholic. The guilt of not being the sick one, of not being able to do more, or if you live far away, not being able to do it at all. The guilt can eat away at you without you even being aware of it. Guilt ….what a fucked up feeling.
Then there’s the feelings of anger and resentment at the ailing loved one, as if it’s something that could have been avoided. You know in your heart that it’s irrational, but the feeling lingers, and at times grows and takes over. There’s anger at the world, the doctors, insurance companies, and more. There’s resentment at other friends and family members who don’t carry your burden, either by choice or by reality.
The anxiety and worry of how you’ll handle the additional responsibilities. What will happen if the sickness progresses and a decision needs to be made? If something happens to you, who will take your place? Or if you become the patient, will someone do the same for you?
Then there’s grief, of all kinds. The sadness of an envisioned future lost. The loss of time and love, and then of life itself.
As I write this, there are more than a half dozen loved ones of mine dealing with cancer at all varying levels. (At this time, they’ve not determined that it’s contagious, so it’s not my fault.) A friend, a mother, an aunt, a veteran, a father, a sister. If you’ve read my posts before, you know I’ve said, “Cancer knows no prejudice.” And in the same sense, neither does being a caregiver. And in dealing with cancer or any illness, I believe it’s the same mental game. Stay out of your head, as the worrying and what ifs aren’t productive. Acknowledge your sadness, feel it, experience it – and then move on. And then handle it with a passion and resilience that you never thought you could muster, but somehow becomes your superhero strength.
But in the end, I would still much rather live through the cancer fight over and over again as long as I’d never have to see a loved one experience it directly. It’s the feeling of helplessness that I can’t stand the most. So please, give me your cancer. I’d happily take it, so you don’t have to.