Power Amid Powerlessness

Another difficult realization is the fact that as a caregiver there will be times when you feel powerless. It is something I have not so much embraced as acknowledged in my situation. I can do everything possible to help my mother. I can wear myself out and in the end, it may not be enough. The chemo and radiation may not be enough. My mother’s determination to beat this may not be enough, and I may not be enough.

This is coupled with the fact that my mother can sometimes be a difficult patient. One of the side effects of chemotherapy is a loss of appetite. I’m not sure why this happens, but according to what I read in the mounds of information they hurl at you when you or someone you love is preparing to undergo cancer treatment, the mouth can develop sores and even if that doesn’t happen, chemotherapy can make the taste of foods change.

This didn’t sound like much when we heard it, but then again, we were bombarded on all sides with information about this side effect and that side effect, this treatment and that treatment. It was all this horrendous stew of information that was vomited on us in one big swirl.

Seriously, that’s how it felt. And again, you are powerless because this is part of the process of being a caregiver for a cancer patient. You are along for the ride and there is nothing you can do about it because this is the choice you’ve made. Of course, in my instance, it didn’t feel like a choice. There was no conscious decision on my part that ever asked or considered the possibility of doing anything else but what I’m doing.

She’s my mom.

No decision necessary.

There were appointments, I can’t remember how many, but in them, we met various medical personnel who discussed with us what we needed to expect from cancer treatment and so on and so forth. There is no way to process it all. If there is, then I have yet to discover it.

You go into these meetings awash with various emotions ranging from fear to your own determination to somehow beat cancer and get back to your life before, and you leave feeling confused, overwhelmed and powerless.

I know in my situation, I felt like a cog in a wheel. There are certain processes that must take place as part of cancer treatment and you must go through them because it’s all about catching the cancer. I know my mother wanted to say, “Next week” or “Next month,” but she couldn’t. She just had to go along and endure whatever came and even though I could do nothing but support her in her efforts.

I was there with my own mix of fear, shock, terror. The swirl of emotions was enormous.

Then there is the fact that my mother can be a difficult patient. Of course, being a cancer patient is a difficult thing to be.

How do you like that for an understatement?

After three chemo treatments, mom was obviously exhausted. The chemo drugs alone make patients anemic and lower their white blood cell count, making them susceptible to illnesses. Before her diagnosis, mom was already taking a boatload of medication for diabetes, heart ailments and arthritis. Before her diagnosis, she was already tired of taking all those pills. So needless to say, after not only her diagnosis, but also her first chemo treatment, she was fed up with taking her pills, and sometimes didn’t.

So here is another area where I, her caregiver am powerless.

I cannot make my mother make healthy choices for herself.

I can nag, scream, fuss and have a fit, but I am powerless to make her swallow one pill, check her blood sugar or anything else.

I also can’t force her to eat.

More importantly, I don’t beat myself up for any of it, because I know I’m doing my best. I wear myself out daily and this is the area where I have power.

I may not be able to beat cancer or force my mother to take care of herself, but I do have choices. And one of my choices includes me being right here doing what I can to help my mother get through this. I have power in my own strength and determination.

What cancer brings me is the knowledge that there is power in powerlessness. Even if the worst happens, it won’t be because my mother or I were weak in any way. There are some instances in life where our own personal power is useless. I know there are those who believe that they have some sort of safety bubble around themselves and their families, but they’re wrong. There are no protective bubbles to protect you from cancer or earthquakes, tornadoes or anything else. Sometimes things happen and it has nothing to do with deserving it because no one deserves cancer. Just like no one deserves to die in a fire or lose a loved one. Yet somehow, we are powerful in the midst of all this. My mother and I are two hardheaded women who are powerful in spite of fear, in spite of every horrible surgery, procedure or drug and in spite of ourselves. We are not perfect. Sometimes we are overcome with fear, but it passes. Sometimes we are full of hope, even though it ebbs and flows.

We are all right for now in this moment as we sit side-by-side watching the news. We are powerful in silence. We are a united front.


3 Responses to Power Amid Powerlessness

  1. Genie says:

    I LOVE the idea of power in powerlessness. Thank you! That is very helpful … a wonderful insight.

  2. Evangela Baker says:

    Thank you! I was my mother’s caregiver for 6 months. This piece mirrors so well my mother and myself as we went through our journey together. The tears are still flowing, it will be one month tomorrow and today is not a good day but this piece was what I needed today. Thank you Rachel

    • Blackbirdsong says:

      Thank you Evangela, and I’m so sorry for your loss. My mom died eight months ago and I haven’t written anything about it yet. Perhaps someday soon I will, but for right now, I’m healing. I hope that you are taking time for yourself to heal as well.


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