Caregivers as Collateral Damage

Caregivers as Collateral Damage

 Caregivers as Collateral Damage

We often think of a chronic disease as something that primarily affects the person diagnosed with it, and to a lesser extent their caregivers. Unfortunately, the disease's impact on caregivers often is as great as the person with the disease.  Most of us think of ourselves as connected to the world, rather than being isolated individuals. We love others, care for many, do things together, grieve with one another, and rejoice in each other’s good fortune.

Chronic Illness as a Community Event

A chronic disease is a community event that brings people along the journey whether or not they want to come. We interact with a stranger and wonder why she’s so distant since we don’t know she is struggling with the effects of a recent chemotherapy session. A salesperson ignores our question about a dress’s material’ a non-response we interpret as hostile since we don’t know that the reoccurrence of her cancer has disrupted her life. A good friend will no longer accept invitations to social events because of the pain caused by the disease’s growth and because he decided not to share the diagnosis, leaves a friend believing he did something offensive.

When I contracted prostate cancer twelve years ago, I didn’t realize the impact it would have on friends, family and even people who were casual acquaintances or strangers. I didn’t know how something I thought was solely owned by me would adversely affect others.

Unskillful Words and Behaviors

Those of us living with cancer know we are on a journey. It can be one with successful outcomes, a road filled with annoying bumps or a path with a destination for which we’re not prepared. Often our journey produces collateral damage in the form of unskillful words and behaviors directed towards our caregivers.

When you don’t understand why your loved one said something shocking to you or others, or did something completely out of character, assume it was generated by the disease. Rarely does stability typify the course of a disease’s development and treatment. If it did, we could predict outcomes.

Balancing Life With a Chronic Disease and being Compassionate

Think of your loved one as trying to balance on an exercise platform; a device physical therapists use to strengthen core muscles. Standing on the platform, efforts to maintain balance are continuous since remaining in one position without falling is impossible. In many ways, the balance board is analogous to living with a chronic disease. Your loved one may be trying to balance acceptance of how the disease is limiting his life with resistance to the changes the disease creates.

Emotional equilibrium isn’t constant unless a person has given up, or the prospect of the disease returning is gone. And even when assured a person is disease-free, the thought reoccurs, “But what if it returns?” Expect mood shifts.

There will be times when your loved one will criticize you for no reason. You just made a significant sacrifice, changed your life, or devoted your time to her needs. Yet, the negativity continues. You need to understand the comments are rarely about you. You're the collateral damage.

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