Dr. Brad Larsen spoke about his work with his wife to SAN at our October 24th monthly meeting. The story he told of balancing his life and caring for a partner with Multiple Sclerosis is an inspiration to anyone caring for a critically ill spouse.
“A Not so Silent Partner”
For 43 of the 45 years we have shared our lives together MS has been a not so silent partner in our marriage, testing our wills and commitment. We were young and quite naïve at the time and had no idea of the impact that Cindy’s diagnosis would have in our lives. But what began as a speed bump became a major detour as Cindy’s physical abilities deteriorated and I found myself spending more time and energy helping her. I felt that I was losing control of my life.
Men are Seven Times More Likely to Leave
A study by Dr. Marc Chamberlain, chief of the neuro-oncology division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, found that women are seven times more likely to be abandoned by a spouse when diagnosis with a chronic illness such as Multiple Sclerosis or cancer than men. Roughly 21% of women were abandoned generally within the first year after the diagnosis.
It seems that these life altering diagnoses test the commitment of men even more than women. Dr. Chamberlain theorizes to the cause of this disparity. He notes that the roles of caregiving and nurturing are not traditional male roles and are less comfortable assuming them than women. Additionally as health care has shifted from lengthy hospital stays to more care being home base, men are less likely to feel comfortable taking care of wounds and the various nursing demands. Most men feel somewhat overwhelmed with the demands of caregiving in addition to earning a living.
While women find emotional support from friends, counselors and support groups, men typically rely on their wives for emotional support. As a man finds himself caring for his spouse, he may be more prone to feelings of isolation and depression. Not only that many men I have spoken with feel as I felt, that they are no longer in control of their own lives.
Caregiving Without a Choice
A study recently published by AARP reported that 50% of caregivers felt they had not choice is assuming their role as caregivers.
Over the course of our 45 years of marriage, I have found myself confronting these same issues. Just because you are committed it doesn’t mean that you are immune to the challenges that are inherent to providing care for your spouse.
Taking Back Control
For years I just took care of Cindy because that is just what you do. Even though we managed to have a great life, in many ways MS was pulling all of the strings. In many ways I was a victim of MS also. When don’t feel in control we rarely find a sense of fulfillment.
Fulfillment comes when we are actively engaged in a process over which we feel that we can control the outcome. As Cindy’s physical abilities deteriorated. I figured her condition would probably get to the point where I wouldn’t be able to take care of her, and she’d have to go to a nursing facility.
Everything changed, for both of us, one day when she was in the hospital and was desperate to go home. In that moment, I made a commitment to take care of her at home and erased the nursing-home option from my mind. Now, caregiving isn’t something I “have” to do. It’s something I “want” to do; something I have “chosen” to do. And I am no longer the victim.
Once I made the choice to be Cindy’s caregiver and take back the control of our lives, the possibilities have become limitless as we have worked through the challenges. Making the choice to provide care for our loved ones can be one of the most precious gifts we can give th