You Are Not Alone – The Steadfast Bond Between Patient and Caregiver

During any difficult life circumstance, going it alone is not a healthy or even practical option. For the next few weeks, my column will feature the “You Are Not Alone” series of articles focused on different life-altering events and fulfillment of needs.


Several years ago, I attended an art auction and fell in love with the works of a husband and wife artistic team, Wendy Schaefer-Miles and Kevin Miles. Having been somewhat associated with the world of art because my grandfather and father both painted with oils, I am familiar with the depths of ownership an artist feels where his or her art is concerned. So when I heard the story of Schaefer-Miles, I was intrigued that they collaborate together to create art on the same canvas and produce some of the most beautiful landscapes in the art world. Somehow this couple has overcome the need for their individual egos in order to paint with one vision while working side-by-side on the same masterpiece. To most artists, this would constitute grand theft, but this team has been painting together for twenty years, and their art is viewed by millions of people every year. My romantic side is in awe as my practical side marvels at how wonderful this same bond would be and usually is for a patient and his or her caregiver.

When one part of a couple is fighting for life, the significant other is usually a major contributor throughout that battle, whether it takes one month, two years, ten years, or more. Make no mistake—it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the patient to survive without the caregiver. This demands a huge amount of patience and mutual respect on both parts of the equation.

You have never known grumpy until you’ve been alone in the room with a patient under pressure. Add to that the fact that neither patient nor caregiver selects the role that they have been given. When you’re not prepared to do something, human nature is to draw away from the task. Love will draw you back together, even when there is little choice and much demand. Sometimes the stress becomes too much, and the team can bend from lack of cohesion. For this reason, the bond must be strong to fight together as one force.

The patient/caregiver team of Gordon and Joni had its share of challenges. The biggest challenge was, of course, the disease itself. Next to that was the fact that we had probably spent a dozen or so full seven-day weeks together in our entire married life prior to being thrown together into the pit of a critical illness. Not so anymore—we were joined at the hip like Siamese twins every waking moment and most non-waking moments. These concerns might have caused a few rifts in our patience, but they were overwhelmingly defeated by our combined determination and love for each other. We never lost track of ourselves as individuals, but the bond that forms as husband and wife is miniscule as compared to that of patient and caregiver.

Did we have fights? We had some whoppers! During the short time that Gordon was in remission, I encouraged him to shake off the gloom and move ahead with his life. He couldn’t do it; fear haunted him every day and night of those months. I now can understand fear of recurrence much better, but there had been a lot of change in my life, too, and I was ready to get back to the way everything was before. This resulted in building frustration for both of us. In retrospect, Gordon may have already suspected that things were not as they appeared in the medical reports. My one regret is that I wasn’t more patient with him during this break in the storm.

As a couple, you have to deal with a chronic illness as a paranormal state of being that will hopefully evolve back to normal over time. Stay the course. Believe in each other and the commitment you made to each other. Yet, when the pressure builds and times are rough, you will both say things to each other that you won’t mean. You both hurt, but try not to hurt each other. They say that in life’s most trying times, you always strike (figuratively, of course) at the one that you love the very best. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a while to let cooler heads prevail.

If there is no spouse or significant other to be the primary caregiver, the life-helper will come from the other family members or very dear friends. Whether it’s a spouse, family member, or friend, I can tell you that caregivers are some of the finest people I have ever met, and the bond between a caregiver and a patient is forever. You’ll cry together; you’ll cry separately. You’ll celebrate every victory and suffer every defeat. There will be many long, exhausting days. Some will be unpleasant; others will be impossible. But at the end of every day, it is a good day when you make it through as one spirit united in a single purpose.


Much of the information included in this article is from:

The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer

(available at and

Based on Joni’s experience and years of research, this inspirational and informative book is designed to give families a fighting chance in their own cancer battle.

Would you like to send something special to someone that’s going through a health-related hardship? Why not send them a Basket of Care ( These baskets are lovingly designed by a cancer survivor, and chock full of practical items that will lend comfort. Or what about a “Day at the Beach” basket for a child who is ill? A Basket of Care is just the way to say, “I care” anytime.

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