Working While Caregiving: Three helpful hints
by Dr. Mark Kamstra, Caregiver
My wife was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on November 29, 1996. Her health had been in decline for the better part of a year – she knew “something” was wrong, just not “what”. At age 27, no one thinks bad things are going to happen to them. Because she had been slowing down for months and months, I was already picking up the slack around the house. With no kids and two cats, it wasn’t too hard to shoulder the burden, but it was already causing friction. I had a full time job and owed others my attention, not just her. She was a graduate student at the time, and she was not holding up her end of responsibilities. That was the emotional core of what I felt. She was feeling sick, so I did what needed to be done, but I resented her sometimes. Even after I knew how serious her illness was, I still felt those emotions bubbling up. We got angry with each other, talked and made up. We both allowed the other to get angry. It was always better after we talked.
Communication is key
If there is a hint that emerges here, it is to let your partner know (gently) when you feel over-burdened or even just imposed upon. It may not change what needs to be done, but it might. Also, be ready to apologize for being less than you could be. Better to admit it, apologize, and work at being a better person than pretending everything is okay. Some people, when sick, suffer silently, nobly. Silence when suffering is just as noble as long-suffering, silent caregiving I suppose, and the advice is the same: find a way to talk to each other and to trust each other with the way you feel. It is going to eventually come out, one way or the other. Leave nobility to those who can afford it. Your relationship can’t.
Don’t wait to ask for help
Once my wife was diagnosed, our lives were further turned upside down. I lost all control of my days, apart from work. Work was the one place that was normal. I managed her medical appointments and my work, but just barely. I do not recall talking much with people at work about the strain until I was about ready to break, a year later, preparing for her bone marrow transplant. I was lucky and got 3 months off work. Second hint: talk to people in your life before you break, well before. People will often help, if offered the chance, and are often glad to help.
Accept help from co-workers
Third hint: ask for and accept help, even at work. Maybe particularly at work. There is, and has to be, a line between your personal life and your job, but you are not just going through a bad break up or bad hair day here. Your “one and only” is facing death. This is not business as usual, and you, your job, and your partner will all pay a price for false pride and vanity. So accept your limits and accept help.
Fifteen years later, I wouldn’t say either of us is grateful cancer came into our lives. However, the experience did teach us valuable lessons about our relationship, and how to take care of each other, even when a life isn’t in jeopardy.
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Mark is just a guy in love with a girl. He hails from a hard-rock mining town, Sudbury Ontario, and is still washing nickel dust out of (what remains of) his hair. He has been an Associate Professor of Finance with the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto Canada since 2004, following what seemed to his family like a career of collecting degrees. Mark received his bachelor of arts degree in economics from the Queen’s University at Kingston. He earned his master’s degree in economics at the University of British Columbia, and his doctorate in economics at the University of California in San Diego. Mark is most proud of his work supporting and caring for his partner, Lisa (the girl), who is also a finance professor, at the Rotman School of Management.