Studies have shown that wives of PC survivors are often under a lot of emotional strain. And the wife’s mental state apparently affects the health of the man. So I asked myself, “Why are we ladies so stressed out”? Often because we are what one article I came across (Minnesota Public Radio, April 17, 2008 by Nanci Olesen ) refers to as “sandwiched-in caregivers.” These are “women in their forties and fifties, who are “sandwiched” between caring for their own kids, caring for their elderly parents, and often holding a full time job.”
I can totally relate to this article because I’m in my forties and, although my husband had a stage-3 melanoma some years ago and has had a recurrence of PC, by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do is care for my elderly mother.
I’ll start at the beginning. My father had a severe stroke on his 80th birthday four years ago, and he spent a year in a hospital (mostly in ICU) before he died. He was in very bad shape, tethered to a ventilator, but unfortunately for him, conscious and aware of his situation.
Because the care he got in the hospital was substandard, my family decided that we would have somebody staying with Dad *at all times*, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. So I spent a lot of time sleeping on chairs.
But it was worth it. Caring for someone you really love can be a really good experience, you develop a sort of holy communion with the person. I sometimes replay in my mind simple gestures I did for my father like putting a wet cloth on his feverish forehead. It gives me pleasure to think that I was able to alleviate a little of his pain.
The problem was that, after my father died, my very intelligent, charming mother, who speaks 8 languages, fell to pieces. She was afraid to be by herself for a moment. Add to that that character traits tend to get more prounounced as a person ages, and my mother just became a bit more paranoid and argumentative. Keep in mind that I really love this woman, but I have also said to myself many times, as sad and ironic as it is, that my mother is going to be the one to finally do me in. I know there are words for children killing their parents, like parricide and matricide, but what do you call it when a mother destroys an adult child? Not infanticide, obviously. I don’t know.
Once about 2 years ago, Mom was at my house having an argument with me. She wanted me to do something that was impossible for me to do. Namely, to drop everything, take time off from work and go stay with her in a country cottage my cousin had lent her. We don’t even have a car, and it cost about $300/day to rent one. In any case, my mother wouldn’t let up. If I said, “white”, she said “black”. Then suddenly, in middle of this conversation, I got a fearsome headache and went to my bedroom to lie down. It turned out that this was my very first migraine.
Originally, I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I had pain around my eye, but after seeing many doctors, two neurologists said I had classic migraines. The doctor was cautious however, because he said it’s very unusual to develop migraines in your 40s, especially where there’s no family history. I told him simply, “You don’t know my mother”. It turned out that he was right because the brain scans ruled out anything else.
Some time ago, one of my readers wrote me a letter asking, “What’s a man with PC to do when there’s no woman in his life to comfort him?” I actually responded (with the Henny Youngman line), “Take my mother, please”. Then I got serious.
If you think it’s easy to talk about this, you are wrong. I feel so guilty, I’m convinced the sky is going to fall in on me any minute. But this is my reality. And maybe yours.
Fortunately, my mother’s story had a happy ending. We arranged for her to have a full-time home attendant and somebody to sleep over at night and that helped enormously. It gave her companionship and a feeling of security.
My mother is healthy as far as I know, but like her neurologist told me, “She’s not 21”. In fact, she’s 84 and she makes perfect sense but she often forgets words. She is failing in small ways, and as a child, it is very painful for me to observe this.
Well, that’s my story. I’m going to provide you with the entire “Sandwich Generation Caregivers” article as it appeared on Minnesota Public Radio, but I am going to do it in a separate post. You might recognize yourself in those stories. It also lists numerous resources for caregivers.