When Caring for the Family Becomes the Job

When Caring for the Family Becomes the Job


shutterstock_210158011FIGHTING cancer has become my father’s full-time job. For the whole of his working life he had another job, as an orthodontist, and he worked out of an office adjacent to the house, so he could be home when our school bus came.

His was a job perfectly suited to his temperament. Rock steady and meticulous, he gently prodded teeth into place, always trying to make the world a little more linear.

Dad retired several years ago, and he loved retirement. His only regret, he said, was that he had not retired sooner. The fun lasted until March when we learned that the cough that had nagged him for months was not a lingering cold but a stampeding tumor.

Since then his job has been anything but gentle or linear — a vertiginous whirl of exhaustion, determination and despair.

The cancer also became my mother’s job. But because she already had a job, as a professor at the College of Mount St. Vincent, she became one of countless care providers who are needed in two places at once.

”Just make sure I get to class so I don’t get fired,” she told me when all this started. ”Work is what will keep me sane.”

She does get to work, whenever she can, through the endless tests that led to a diagnosis (though she never made it the day we waited in a surgeon’s waiting room for six interminable hours); through the first brutal round of inpatient chemotherapy (though she was late the night Dad needed a transfusion); through the weeks when he has been too frail to be left alone at home.

As she tries to do both jobs, she feels blessed to work where she does, at a workplace steeped in kindness. The administration has told her to come in when she can; faculty colleagues have told her they will fill in when she can’t. Their interpretation of the Family Medical Leave Act seems to be, ”We’ll keep paying you and praying for you.” READ MORE