Chloe was only 17 years old when she became a primary caregiver for her uncle with Parkinson’s, and shortly after for her father who was diagnosed with stage-3 Colon Cancer. She shares her caregiving journey, her struggles and challenges, and how she grew from the experience.
To fellow young caregivers out there, we hope her story brings you strength as you journey on the path of being a caregiver. Remember, you are not alone.
Because we are family
Being the only child in my family, I am especially close with my parents as well as my Uncle and Aunt who lives with us.
My parents are always busy at their vintage coffee-shop, where my uncle and aunt would also be helping out. Working in the Food & Beverage (F&B) industry means long hours of standing, short sleep hours and irregular meals. They wake as early as 6.30am and are only home after 8 pm, yet they seem to thrive in this environment, spending most of their lives in the coffee-shop with customers turned old friends.
I have always known that as my parents, aunt and uncle age, and grow old and frail, it would fall on me at some point to care for them. Little did I expect to have to take on the role of a caregiver when I was just a teenager, just as they seemed to be at the peak of their health.
Walking on a tightrope
When I was studying, during my polytechnic days, my Uncle’s health deteriorated due to his Parkinson’s. He needed to have a full-time caregiver, and my Aunt assumed the primary role.
My dream then was to achieve good results to prove to my family that I could do it. They had already provided the best they could towards my education, and I did not want to fail them. Adjusting to my Uncle’s deteriorating health weighed heavy on me. It was challenging and stressful for me. I needed an outlet to release the stress I bottled within myself.
Slowly, I started to seek help from resources, friends and my relatives. I am thankful for those who are always there for me.
The meaning of being a caregiver
After graduating from my polytechnic studies, I decided to take over the role of caregiving for my uncle from my Aunt as I felt that she needed respite. She was showing signs of caregiving burnout, and we wanted to let her take some time off for herself, to resume her old routine of enjoying work and communicating with people out of the family circle.
As a caregiver, there were sacrifices I had to make. Being Uncle’s primary caregiver for two years and subsequently for my father, who was later diagnosed with stage-3 Colon Cancer, meant having a social life of little to none.
Friendships drifted apart, and I lost most of my friends. I was always rushing home after school because of needing to care; rather than go out with my friends. My career and education had to take a backseat as well. I could not take up a part-time job because of time constraint, and I even had to take time off after my first year at University because my family needed me.
I finally understood what caregiver stress meant and how it can build up over time as we care for a loved one living with a chronic condition. I felt that life was unfair and that all the unfortunate things were happening time and again to my loved ones around me.
What caregiving has taught me
It has been an extremely long journey in having to juggle care for my family members. My uncle left us in late 2016, and my father has since been declared cancer-free. Despite all that has happened, we never once thought of getting an external carer, or to place my Uncle in a nursing home.
I am glad to have spent time with Uncle while he was around. I enjoyed the times we had together; where on better days we would sing karaoke, play Chinese chess and watch YouTube videos together. I would sometimes also feed him the simple homecooked fare I prepared him.
My caregiving journey has taught me a lot. I have learnt to seek help and advice from others whenever I am unsure or feel lost as to what to do next.
I have learnt that every little action counts. The simple act of keeping your loved one company and doing what they enjoy can help them feel more comfortable and happier while adding purpose and meaning to their lives.
Most importantly, I have learnt not to take things for granted. We need to treasure the moments we have with our family members and make time for them. They are the ones who will always be the backbone and supporting pillars for us. When they leave, it will be a lifetime of memory which we will always keep close to our hearts.
Inspired by her personal caregiving journey, Chloe joined Homage upon graduation with the goal of supporting other family caregivers who may be going through similar circumstances. She now works as a Finance Associate at Homage.