Friday, May 28, 2010


Interesting how wisdom passes from hand to hand. Blogger Lori Hope ( relays a wonderful piece by Marcie Beyatte ( on the “seven million” lessons Marcie learned from her cancer. It’s definitely worth reading.

One of her lessons involves an increasingly prominent issue, the well-being of caregivers. “Being a caregiver is harder than being the patient,” Marcie writes. “I found this out when my husband got cancer two years after my recovery.”

My friend Randy Hill, who’s developing a support program for caregivers, has been attending meetings of people with cancer and meetings of caregivers as well. He related to me a stunning realization. “Meetings of patients are generally upbeat,” he said. “In caregivers’ meetings, though, the general atmosphere is sadness.”

His interpretation is that people who have cancer (or possibly any life-threatening illness) frame their situation differently than caregivers do. He feels that facing potential death can elevate one into a heroic perspective, while giving care can seem like only ongoing, mundane drudgery. It’s one thing to stare down The Reaper and quite another to empty the next bedpan.

His view strikes home, and it makes me wonder: if having cancer invites one to re-view one’s life, might caregiving as well? I regularly see people slide into doomful depression right after diagnosis, and then gradually evolve a positive, creative response. Can caregivers do the same? Is their function simply to work hard and support, or might it, too, rise to the archetypal level?

Patients frequently describe their caregivers as heroes. What, after all, is a hero? A Superman type, who protects those around him by obliterating the villain? Sure, but that version happens only to be a current aberration. Historically and literarily, heroes are something different. The late mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out that in legends around the world, heroes are themselves conquered--again and again--but by greater and greater villains. The Luke Skywalkers set out on their mission confidently, but get trounced by the Darth Vaders. So they consult with the Yodas, acquire skills, and in the next encounter do better, but ultimately it’s not about winning, only expanding oneself. Any doubts, ask Joan of Arc.

So I wonder if we can work with caregivers toward reframing their role. To be the wind beneath someone’s wings is also to fly.

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