Caregiver: What’s YOUR Sign?

Take a moment to 'see' the invisible signs the people around you might be holding up.

Take a moment to ‘see’ the invisible signs the people around you might be holding up.

Lined up on the bleachers watching our daughters play basketball we exchanged sporadic chatty remarks with our pastor and his wife seated in front of us. During a break in the game, while checking email on his phone, my husband murmured to me the status of a cancer-fighting friend. The pastor overheard and asked if it was someone he knew. In the ensuing conversation regarding chemo and neuropathy I mentioned that Andrew had struggled with that same thing. I blinked back tears of empathy.

My stomach gave a funny little lurch as our pastor’s mouth dropped open and he said, “Wait a minute. What did you say?” I repeated my comment and he said, “WHO had cancer?” while his eyes darted to the strong-looking young man beside me, busy cheering for his sister. My answer of “Andrew” just did not match the picture that our pastor had of our boy.

It gave me a weird feeling. How could he not know? Then I reviewed our conversations and remembered that we try to not talk about it all the time because that’s just, well, obnoxious. Someone had ‘lovingly’ pointed out during Andrew’s second year of treatment that we shouldn’t bring up the ‘C’ word too often as people tired of hearing about it.

But our pastor should know. Right? I giggle to myself as I write that. What a stupid sentiment! How could ANY ONE know, if I haven’t told them? We moved across the country just over a year ago and have a whole new set of people with whom we attend church, work and interact on a daily basis.

My assumption that my relapses into the world of PTSD symptoms would be glaringly obvious to everyone is laughable. Who could imagine I function with lack of sleep, poor memory and a different personality (at times)? How could they know I have a blog and reams more stories to tell, and obsess over cancer-fighting friends and their treatment with an unhealthy amount of knowledge.

How could anyone know there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about our long journey? Does anyone realize that we’re still seeking therapy for muscle groups rendered weak six years ago? Who could sense that the word “cancer” actually makes my stomach churn a bit? Could anyone who didn’t know me before possibly see that I’m not quite as outgoing as I used to be, but at the same time am more likely to blurt an honest opinion? Can’t everyone track my amazing spiritual growth and the fact that while I developed control issues I didn’t have before, I also have a bigger faith in God’s ultimate plans than I could have ever fathomed?

Isn’t it astonishing that people here do not look at me and see “Cancer Caregiver: complete with scars” printed on my forehead? Maybe if I snapped a selfie of me holding a recovering caregiver’s sign and posted it on Facebook with a plea for support through ‘likes’, people would get the idea that I struggle.

Ah—but isn’t it amazing that I miss other struggling people’s ‘signs’ as well?

  • “Worn-out-mom”
  • “Rehabilitating accident victim”
  • “Out-of-work salesman”
  • “My husband has Alzheimer’s—he thinks I’m his cleaning lady”

Maybe our struggles should automatically be made into signs so that others can see and help us with our burdens.

Or maybe….

Maybe we should just automatically help each other, whether we have knowledge of burdens or not.

This is not a rant against those who aren’t telepathic enough to know I’m a recovering caregiver with leftover issues from an intense 3 ½ year treatment protocol and all of its after-effects. I simply want to gently remind us (myself included) that we all carry signs—but too often they’re invisible.

We need to assume that each person might have a sign—something they need help with, something they need recognition for, or something that just makes them feel vulnerable. We don’t always need to know what the sign says—let’s just remember it might be there. Take the time to lend a sympathetic ear; to encourage and to uplift each person that you meet. Who knows, you might just save them the embarrassment of taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook.

–Carol

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  • This reminds me of something I read once in My Utmost for His Highest, where Oswald Chambers so astutely pointed out that there is much we do not know about people’s lives around us. Give a little more grace, he suggested. (At least, this is how I remember it.) I do sometimes wish we carried signs. I think we’d all look with a little more empathy. Then, probably, we’d get that hardness, the kind that says, “Don’t talk about cancer too much; we get tired of hearing about it.” (Ugh, that made me so mad in your post.) Thanks for this encouragement.

    • Give a little more grace. I like that. Maybe the person who told me not to talk about cancer had their own issues – maybe it made them feel sick too? 🙂

      A little more grace – I’m going to keep that phrase. Thanks!

  • Donne

    Beautifully stated, Carol! Every one of us has unique challenges that we face daily and every one of us has something that can help another person. I know that I tend to get very comfortable in my own little introverted zone and often don’t see those opportunities to reach out. It is something I need to do more often.

    • Even in those moments we’re not strong enough to reach out – maybe we can pray for those around us. There’s a lot of power in that! Thank you for your kind comment.

  • Also being a cancer caregiver, I understand so much of what you say. It affects your life forever. One time my husband said, “I will be interested to see what you become after going through this. No one can walk through this journey and not be changed.” My husband did not win his battle over cancer, but the devil lost the war for my husband’s soul. God has amazing things planned.

    • Sylvia – I love your positive take on things. I’m sorry that your husband lost to cancer, but what a blessing that God’s plan still triumphs! “No one can walk through this journey and not be changed.” Absolutely true. Some of the changes are automatic but the change to be strong and to be positive is a choice. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • Tammy

    Wow, Carol. Thank you so much for sharing. Your insights are incredible. And you’re right. We all have our own story/sign – wouldn’t it be nice if we treated each other with kindness and empathy. You are such a blessing to me in sharing your thoughts.

    • Thank you, Tammy. While waiting for sleep to claim me last night I began to picture all the signs I could be holding: slightly crazy, sings in the shower, hard worker, etc. But you know, the sign I hope I carry the highest is that Jesus is my Savior!

  • Randy

    Carol, you have survived too. And yes, you are thriving –you will never be the same person you were before. You are wiser and even more beautiful! Our family is truly blessed.

  • Barbara Frohne

    Carol, This really has me thinking. I’m not a cancer caregiver. But I’m the mom of a child with Lyme disease. It isn’t one of the big, bad, diagnosises. But we’ve had our scary moments. And 15 months of uncertainty, with scary symptoms and no diagnosis. It is long term. We don’t know how long. I’ve found myself feeling so ragged. I am tired of talking about it with people. Only a few people understand. Most think my child should just snap out of it already. But even just last night, there was a church person who cares, who asked, and really listened. It meant a lot. I know there are more people out there who are tired too. Thanks for reminding me. I may not be able to recognize their needs. They may be covering them up too. I hope I don’t overlook them when they need my encouragement or help.

    I’m looking forward to the day when my daughter is pain free, with energy, a healthy brain and heart, thriving out there with the best of them. I’m looking forward to thriving again too.

    • Barbara – I’m sorry to hear of your daughter’s struggles. You are correct, 15 months is a long time! Weary and ragged are good terms to use for long term caregivers who pour heart and soul into helping others. We all try to hide our struggles…I hope we work just as hard at noticing the struggles that others might be hiding! 🙂
      Prayers for your daughter!
      Carol Bovee recently posted…Voices in the Desert: A Child of PromiseMy Profile

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