Cancer Changes Who Becomes a Caregiver First


Traditionally, it is the younger generations that become caregivers first. But cancer alters the best-laid plans.

A friend of mine who I will call “D” was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30, receiving the diagnosis the day her grandmother arrived for a 10-day vacation. She stayed a year.

D recalls waking up in recovery and hearing her grandmother saying, “Why couldn’t it be me. I have lived my life.”

As this disease has stricken younger and younger women, more mothers and grandmothers have had to cope with a reverse of the natural order. Children are supposed to take care of their parents and grandparents — not the other way around.

As a mother, I know that I would suffer any disease or accident if I could bargain that it wouldn’t happen to my daughter. I’ve met many mothers at the speeches I have made, there with daughters. The pain, and sometimes guilt, are palpable. Don’t we all feel that everything that happens to our children is somehow our fault? That we could have prevented it?

D continued working as a lawyer while in treatment and looks back now on that time as a gift she received from her grandmother, truly a unique woman, loving care during her treatment. After D left for work in the morning, her grandmother cleaned up all the hair that had fallen out during the night -- from her pillow, in the drain and the kitchen sink.

When D caught on, she didn’t ask her to stop, instead letting her feel she was helping by trying to keep the reality of her hair loss from D. It was such a loving thing to do, as she recalls.

D found out later that her grandmother’s next daily act would be to call her daughter to update her — and listen to her cry at her inability to be there too.

After D finished treatment she decided to return home to her family where she, her mother and her grandmother found a new connection that D calls one of cancer’s gifts to her. D says that when she wants to remember what love feels like, she thinks of her grandmother and is overwhelmed.

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