When I heard the hoover going I thought dad had knocked it over. Mum was out. I was 16 and the extent of his household chores were limited to taking the bins out and washing up. He was in fact attempting to clean (mum must have moaned at him). His foray into domesticity didn’t last beyond that task. Fast forward 10 years and dad was responsible for everything. Mum was dying and that meant he was in charge.
When mum got the first diagnosis she set about teaching dad life skills. Cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, changing the bed sheets. All the things she had done. By the time the terminal diagnosis came, dad was proficient. Mum deteriorated pretty quickly and it soon became necessary for dad to do everything.
Mum wanted to die at home. Dad promised her that would happen and he stuck to that vow. It meant he had to give up work and care for her and himself, 24 hours a day. We moved a bed downstairs to make access easier for mum. She had a commode but needed help getting out of bed so dad had broken sleep for months. I lived two hours away so I would visit on weekends but it wasn’t enough. He was in it alone.
It’s not to say dad wasn’t a caring person – he was, but in a hands-off kind of way. He’d been the one with a joke, mum would be the one who would nurture. This all changed of course and I saw a side to dad I’d never seen before. Gentle, proactive, selfless. He was good at being the carer and appeared to manage it with ease. It’s only now I look back and realise how horrendous it must have been for him and what toll it must have taken on his mental health.
Towards the end, he had sporadic overnight support from a local charity so that he could get some sleep. I wish it had been more. Macmillan helped mum apply for ESA but once that was complete we didn’t think we needed them, and we’re not the kind of family who ask for help, we just got on with it. At the time I didn’t know about the help available for them both, things like:
- Carer’s allowance which could have helped with the financial burden
- Social services support which might have been available to help with mum’s personal care
- Home adaptations which might have made showering easier for mum
- Counselling and support groups which dad could have accessed in the last few months.
All things that I now know are available to help those who are caring for someone with cancer. It’s easy to overlook the carers. You always focus on the person with cancer; how are they doing? What support do they need? The carer is just as important because they are the lifeline. That’s one of the great things about Macmillan; they are able to provide support and signpost the whole family, letting everyone know they aren’t alone.
What would I say to a carer of a loved one with cancer? You’re not super human. You need and deserve support. Don’t be afraid to ask. This isn’t an admission of failure in any way, it’s you doing the best for your loved one and yourself. You’re not alone. So many people want to help you. Let them.
What would I say to my dad? You’re my hero. I’m proud of you.