As a daughter (I'm the eldest of 6), wife and mother, I've done quite a bit of caregiving in my life. I was raised in a pretty traditional family, where my dad went to work and my mom handled most of what went on inside the house. My mom did work part-time and my dad's job was flexible enough that he also helped with homeschooling us but the house was my mom's domain and she is the most nurturing person I know. I'm definitely not as nurturing naturally, but I had really good role models in my parents and now, my husband.
Characteristics of a caregiver
When I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer in mid-2017, I'd already gone through the initial or active treatment typical of an early stager. We thought I was stage II for a few months and my family had already rallied around us to get through chemo. Within a few days of knowing I had to do chemo, my mom had arranged for one of my siblings and their spouses to come each weekend of the 4 AC cycles. When I found out I was stage IV, my mom came herself and spent just about the entire summer of 2017 sleeping on couches, hospital beds, and fold-out beds.
Caregiving requires presence
That's one of the primary hallmarks I've noticed about caregiving, it requires presence. Either my sweet husband or my mom was with me during each visit with a doctor or each overnight at a hospital, even when I said I could handle it myself. Given that I had 4 surgeries, multiple hospitalizations, many scans, and doctors appointments all the time, my mom being present and basically chauffeuring me around assisted my husband in maintaining his job. My husband maintaining his job means that we have health insurance. Caregiving requires showing up not only for the patient but also for the other caregivers.
Caregiving requires more than one person
That's the second piece of caregiving that I've noticed, it requires more than one person. If caring for me was left to just one person, that one person would have little downtime, especially in the beginning when I could barely move. The mets to my bones meant that I had to be non-ambulatory for a while, then I graduated to a walker after surgery, then canes, etc. Getting to the bathroom was its own challenge for some time and I couldn't shower unassisted for quite a while. My sweet husband simply couldn't be around all the time. My mom is not as young anymore and she needs a break. My dad, sisters, and brothers have also pitched in.
Many forms of caregiving
The third piece of caregiving that I've noticed is that there are many forms of caregiving. Just as we are all made up of many parts, each person in our lives may be better at one type or another. From my metsters online, I am supported with cancer "hacks," commiseration, and confirmation that we are all dealing with something similar. From my psychiatrist, I am supported by both mental health medication and psychological support. From my other doctors, I am supported with the various and specific specialties, including the knowledge of when I need something from a new doctor. From my "old" friends from before cancer, I am supported by people who have known where I have been. From my "new" friends from after cancer, I am supported by people who know me as I am now. From my family, I am supported in so many ways by people who know me, who love me and value me for who I am. From my mom, I am supported by a survivor who has been through much of what I face each day and by the person who has known me best and the longest. From my dad, I am supported by a licensed mental health therapist who has walked the cancer path with my mom. From my children, I am supported by unconditional love and snuggles. From my husband, I am supported by unconditional acceptance and consistency and loyalty. I can't imagine how I would be able to do as well as I'm doing without all of this caregiving from all of these disparate people.
Assisting the patient
The fourth piece of caregiving is assisting the patient with their own caregiving & responsibilities. My husband and I have two boys. I couldn't care for them by myself for a long time and, even two years later, I often need help. My boys still need me to be their mom, but when I can't pick them up from school or correct them at the moment or complete their homework, there are people in my life who I can lean on to help me be their mom.
I am well aware that I am extremely blessed to have many people in my life who show up for me. I've been surprised at times who has actually shown up. There were people that I expected to show up who didn't and those people who I never expected to show up, who stalk me regularly to make sure I'm ok. I'm not always good at accepting help from the people who care for me, but I am getting better.
- How can you show up to care for someone today?
- Is there someone unexpected who is providing care for you?
- Have you thanked all the people who have cared for you?
- Is there someone else you need to ask for help?
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