As I watch my siblings and I strive to handle the various situations that come up when a loved one is suffering from cancer and being treated with chemo and radiation therapy, I know there isn’t a single “right” way to handle the situation. Even so, my father became keenly aware lately of the following:
It is very difficult to live in someone else’s home;
When one is dealing with their own illness, they like to have some sense of control of the choices in their life; and;
It’s very difficult to listen to someone else’s burdens or challenges when one is dealing with a life threatening challenge of one’s own.
At one point in the past few week’s my dad was ready to pull his hair out. In reality, he really was checking to see if his hair would pull out due to the chemo–he’s a bit paranoid about losing his hair and is full of anxiety about the possibility. But metaphorically speaking, he has been ready to pull his hair out from frustration at living in someone else’s home and feeling like he has not been given control over his own care and welfare.
I will agree with him that my sister, whose home he lives in during treatment, has not given him any choices really. Or rather, she controls what options she presents then tells him what choice he is going to make and moves forward. At one point, he just responded “yes, mother” to her badgering and ordering him to do what she felt was best. I understand her response to his illness is to take control and force his care and healing, but healing is something that cannot be forced and she will hopefully come to some peace in this process to understand and be more patient, less demanding, and less bossy.
In order to show some sense of control over his life and choices, my father recently put his foot down and declared he was going to go home to New Mexico and finish his treatment there. He lost that battle, but did get to go home for one week. He was so homesick before he went and now that he has arrived back this past weekend, he is even more homesick than he was before–it was a whole lot warmer and with chemo treatment, it is nearly impossible for his body to keep him warm. His trip did energize him and make him feel there is a reason to get through the last two chemo treatments so he can go home, which is a positive result of this trip, but his trip was not the best experience. That is a story for next time.
In interacting with my father, I have come to realize that even positive news and positive things that happen just aren’t things he can handle to hear about. He’s hurting, he’s miserable, he’s hungry and he can’t handle hearing about anyone else’s day. I try to help my brother understand that speaking to our father about his trials and stresses and money problems only causes our father to get sicker–and increases anxiety level in him. I try to help him understand that dad doesn’t want to hear about anything in anyone else’s life right now. It needs to be about him and his challenges and hurting and we need to be sensitive to that. I was surprised that my father couldn’t even handle the good things. When he asked me about an opportunity I was trying for in my career, he could only handle a yes or no answer, then seemed to need to talk about his need to be home and in the sunshine of his home state.
I am hoping I am being sensitive enough to respond appropriately and be aware of what he can and can’t handle, but one can’t always know what will set the ill family member off on a road to anxiety and stress during their illness and treatment. This experience is definitely teaching me greater sensitivity to my own lack of observance and awareness of others’ needs. I hope to continuously improve in that area as I interact with my father and others on a daily basis and come to recognize the needs of others even if they are not suffering from a life threatening disease.
Susan McLain has over 15 years experience in technical and marketing writing