a woman and a man fighting on one side of an hourglass and being friends on the other side

Losing a Caregiver, Keeping a Friend

I first found out I had multiple myeloma when I broke my hip during a fall. I wasn’t able to walk or drive, and getting into and out of my wheelchair was excruciatingly painful. My local cancer clinic didn’t treat multiple myeloma, so I needed to travel 4 hours away to the nearest university hospital for official diagnosis and treatment.

My oldest daughter was away at college, my youngest was a senior in high school, and my son was in middle school. Local family members offered no help, and my friends had full-time jobs. I had very few options. Fortunately, a man I had once dated briefly offered to help and act as my caregiver.

There was a lot of good

For the next two months, he wheeled me to consultations, surgeries, biopsies, radiation, and chemo treatments, and the occasional ER visit. As my caregiver at the Hope Lodge, he did my shopping, made my food, and washed my laundry. He drove me back home a few weekends so I could see my kids. He also installed ramps so I could get into and out of my house.

He moved in with me and my kids while I awaited surgery and an auto stem cell transplant. During my transplant, he acted as my caregiver and drove me to and from all the daily appointments. He also brought me food and drinks I could tolerate while I was in the hospital. After my transplant, he helped with the driving, bills, and chores as I recovered and regained strength and energy.

There was also a lot of stress

I was extremely grateful for his help and the sacrifices he made, but things were still quite stressful. I had a difficult adjustment from an independent, active lifestyle to the one my hip fracture and cancer diagnosis required. Our differences were magnified by my illness, anxiety, and the often too-close living quarters. I thought he was messy, lazy (he says energy conservative), and passive-aggressive. I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t try a little harder to make things easier for me at a time when everything was already so difficult.

He felt like I was too anxious, moody, stubborn, easily frustrated, and demanding. He was tired of my treatment-induced behaviors and emotions being directed at him and often took them personally. He thought I lacked empathy for his physical and mental fatigue and only focused on my own.

The stress wasn't worth the help

As I continued to recover, it was clear that the increasing stress wasn’t worth the extra help I was getting. Plus, I was only 49. I wanted space and freedom more than a live-in caregiver. I was growing depressed and hopeless that my life would ever change and get better, and I was beginning not to care.

But I had also lost my job and my ability to work full-time. I doubted my ability to make it on my own with the intense fatigue I struggled with daily. But I knew that if I lived in an environment without peace and healthy communication, then I never would. I also wanted to set a good example for my kids. I wanted them to remember that I at least tried to have a happier life.

By asking him to leave, I knew I was setting us both free to be ourselves and live our own lives. As angry as I was with him at times, I still wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to have his own space that was free from obligation and the often daily strains that come with cancer.

Still friends

He moved out a little over a year after my transplant to a townhouse a mile from my house. After a brief cooling-off period, we began talking again, this time as two happier adults who have their own time and space. He still does my shopping and helps around the house and yard. I can’t do much in return except offer a beer and an occasional meal. But I can offer gratitude, forgiveness, and a friendship that somehow survived the incredible stresses of cancer.

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