How can I stop feeling resentful that my parent with cancer has become so self-involved?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, my father has become a different person. He's so self-absorbed, and all he talks about is the cancer, what's happening with his treatment, and how he feels. He never asks about me. How can I stop feeling resentful about this?


Expert Answer

Eileen Saffran is executive director of the Gathering Place, a community-based cancer support center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Feelings of anger and resentment are perfectly natural. This is one of the things I hear most often from caregivers, and the first thing I always say is, "It's OK that you feel this way."

Because of the cancer diagnosis, your father's life has been turned upside down, and so has yours. Your father is doing what he has to do -- his whole focus is on himself, because that's what he has to do to fight the cancer. But that leaves you with a lot of resentment and anger. The focus in your relationship used to be on what you and your dad would do together, the things you had in common and liked to talk about; now it's on him being sick and you caring for him. And that leaves you with a double loss. Not only did you lose your normal life the day your dad was diagnosed with cancer, you lost the person who supported and nurtured you. It's natural for you to feel resentful -- who wouldn't in this situation?

The thing to realize is that your father is probably going to stay self-focused, at least throughout the treatment process, so you need to figure out how to get your needs met. In my experience, the adult child has to start letting go of the old relationship and figure out how to get support elsewhere. Do you have siblings you can talk to about what's happening? A friend who's been through a similar experience? Caregiver support groups are great for dealing with these feelings, because everyone in the group has experienced similar feelings of loss, anger, and resentment. It can help to remind yourself that this is the new normal, and you don't have to like it. But it will get easier if you work toward accepting it. Then look for other ways to get the support and comfort you used to get from your dad.

You can also make a point of noticing the small moments when you do connect with your dad in the old ways; there may be more of these as his treatment settles into a routine. And as time passes, the process of care giving may bring you closer in other ways that you didn't expect.