Caregiving

I realize I haven’t said much about those brave souls who unexpectedly end up as caregivers for those of us with cancer. My partner is one of those. He thought that he would be the one to have the lung cancer because of his years of working around chemicals and dust and of smoking. But so far, he’s fine.

When he found out my diagnosis, he was upset, understandably. I think it’s harder for men; their attitude is to fix anything that’s broken, no matter what it is. Steve can’t fix this cancer, so he feels useless and doesn’t know what to do. He wants to do something to make the cancer go away and can’t, and that is so difficult for him. I think women generally handle these things better than men do; after all, most of us have been raised to be caretakers – of spouses/partner, children, then grandparents and parents – so caring for an ill partner is just another caretaking job. Men are generally fixers; if something isn’t right, they want to fix it.

I worry about his mental health and have tried to encourage him to find a group for caregivers that might help him. But I don’t think he’s made a move. Just talking to others going through the same process can help, whether for caregivers or patients. I know it helps him to have lunch with his guy friends and he talks to other friends a lot, but they aren’t in the situation he’s in, so I wish he would find some support from people in his situation. I can’t make him do it.

So what he has done is take over all the house chores; cleaning, cooking, laundry, feeding the dogs, taking them to their appointments, and chauffeuring me to all my appointments, picking up prescriptions, and ferrying lab and x-ray results to various places. For all of this I am thankful.

I know some of what I have written is all generalities about how men and women handle the situation, and I’m sure there are exceptions. I have noticed the patients in the infusion room are mostly women with a smattering of men. The men tend to settle their partners in then wander off for a while; the women mostly stay and chat. A couple of the men do stay with their partner for the whole time, but look totally bored. There is some conversation with the other men and with the nurses, but I get the sense that the men don’t want to be there. We women will chat with each other comparing notes on treatments, side effects, how to handle them, hopes for the future, any topic you might discuss over lunch. The men tend to make jokes about anything and everything and in some cases, I get the feeling that that is their coping mechanism.

I can’t address all male caregivers, obviously, but the ones I know do have a hard time because they can’t ‘fix’ this; and the women caregivers I know seem to take it all in stride. Men may see asking for help as a weakness and so often don’t take advantage of the support groups. But I have a feeling if they would just try it once, they would realize the benefits. So I will keep trying with my partner to get him to at least check out one or two. What can it hurt?