Angel drawing by Shulamit and her daughter, Deborah Barkow
Cancer is fundamental, it is about basic systems failing, its about difficult odds, and toxic treatments and the cruelty of the body.
It is also about the mind, as well as the emotions and the spirit.
A cancer diagnosis brings an abrupt shift, a tidal wave that sweeps the old away in an instant and puts everything up for grabs —not only your life itself but your relationship to it and to everyone in it.
This is as true for the caregiver as well as the patient.
Each must confront BIG questions.
When one is preoccupied with life, work, and love, these questions can be ignored or never asked; but in response to cancer, these questions are part of a process which carries on inexorably underneath the surface of one’s duties:the loving, caring and feeding of the patient’s spirit and body.
In this way, the challenges become the teacher.
The caregiver, especially if a close family member, will be forced to look at the fragility of a central part of one’s accomplishment, one’s life’s mission…..in my case as mother, the efforts to love and protect my child.
While I had innumerable tasks to perform taking care of my daughter, I was pushed by circumstance to reexamine the strategies and understandings that have fueled my own life. All the while I bore witness to the suffering of a cherished being, and was largely impotent in the face of it.
The dominant theme, of course, is the body itself, the vessel without which all dreams and loves are for nought. In peril, all energies focus on surviving post bone marrow transplant. The caregiver brings the all important carefully prepared food, encourages the patient to eat and drink, supervises the massive intake of medicines, ( and in the case of a bone marrow transplant oversees the crucial cleanliness of everything, especially the kitchen).The caregiver must remain alert to the nuances of body signals, and accompany the patient to the clinic, to keep them company, and play interference with the medical staff, when necessary.
The patient needs curing.
Both the caregiver and the patient need healing, even if all eyes are on the patient.