Image source: Felicia Robinson
DeAirah Robinson was a senior in college when her mother Felicia, with whom DeAirah lived in Georgia, asked her to feel a lump on her chest. “Our first reaction was, ‘Oh, that’s probably because the bra is a little too tight,'” Felicia told POPSUGAR. But when the lump didn’t go away, Felicia decided to have it checked out, and in December 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. From there, “everything started going so fast,” DeAirah recalls. On February 1, Felicia was at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas to get a unilateral mastectomy. The day after the operation, DeAirah flew to Texas to help.
DeAirah supported her mother during her early recovery, then returned to Georgia, where her duties awaited her. “I thought [the mastectomy] was the end of the journey,” she tells POPSUGAR. But on Valentine’s Day 2018, Felicia called with a devastating update: The mastectomy hadn’t removed all the cancer and she would also need to receive chemotherapy. DeAirah had just been driving when she heard the news. “I sat in the car and cried,” she recalled. “Knowing that she was going to take on this challenge…it was hard to manage.”
DeAirah had recently changed majors and had a full course load, but she immediately began planning how she could add caring for her mother to her to-do list. “I didn’t really guess or think. I jumped into action,” she says.
DeAirah is one of a growing number of millennials who have taken on roles as caregivers for their loved ones. A a 2018 AARP report found that 10 million Millennials are caregivers, but that number could increase. According to Global Caregiver Wellbeing Index.
This is not an easy task. Millennial caregivers spend about 21 hours a week on care-related tasks, according to the AARP report — the equivalent of a part-time job. As a result, Millennials and Gen Z caregivers often end up juggling school, work, and sometimes parenthood with their caregiving duties. And 77% of caregivers say providing emotional support is one of their top responsibilities, survey shows survey conducted by Embracing Carers found. The time and emotional energy it takes to provide care often means that people end up sacrificing their personal lives in one way or another, and more than half of carers aged 18 to 34 say the role has had a negative impact on their long-term career goals.
“”I just knew my duty was going to be to take care of my mom, attend her appointments, and make sure she was emotionally and mentally okay on this trip.”
For DeAirah, making her mother her priority was not a decision. “I just knew my duty was going to be to take care of my mom, attend her appointments, and make sure she was emotionally and mentally okay on this trip,” she says. Her dad worked night shifts and she commuted to college from home, but she still managed to accompany Felicia to most, if not all, of her doctor’s appointments, which proved invaluable. : DeAirah reminded Felicia to tell the doctor about any symptoms or side effects she had experienced since her last visit, and helped her remember and understand all the medical information they received. “We would come home and talk, ‘What did they say?’ or ‘Okay, now I need to get vaccinated – what does that mean? What are those side effects?’ So we were constantly trying to read and learn in advance what I was going to be up against to see how much involvement I was going to need,” says Felicia.
At one point, Felicia even moved into her daughter’s bedroom, sleeping on a recliner to be closer to DeAirah. “The first chemo hit me really, really hard,” Felicia says. “So [DeAirah] made a lot of consoling and positive conversations and just kind of nurtured me in that moment. The roles kind of flipped from being a mother to your daughter to your daughter mothering you.”
Although DeAirah was eager to help, coping with the situation could feel isolating. “I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about the situation,” DeAirah says. She was able to confide in friends, but because she didn’t know anyone who had played a similar caretaker role, “I felt like they didn’t really get it,” DeAirah says. Loneliness is a huge source of burnout among caregivers in general, and The New York Times reports that it may be especially prevalent among young adults. Even if their friends are having similar experiences, they may be less likely to talk about them, and resources aimed at supporting caregivers are often aimed at seniors. To keep her spirits up, DeAirah often relied on her faith and prayer, as well as writing. “I would keep a diary for myself if I found myself overwhelmed or anxious.”
At one point, DeAirah considered taking a break from school. “I wanted to take a semester off in the spring semester to focus on caring for my mom, but she insisted that I stay in school,” DeAirah says. While ultimately grateful, it was also stressful, she says: “I had this pressure of wanting to finish on time, but also wanting to make sure she was good.”
Finally, in June 2018, Felicia rang the bell at her treatment center to celebrate the end of her chemotherapy. “Seeing her ring that bell was pure joy,” DeAirah said.
“I always knew physically that she was a little different and probably still felt different,” DeAirah says, but that didn’t stop them from marking the occasion with goodie bags for the nurses, a number four balloon to signify the chemotherapy cycles that Felicia has completed. , and a nice family dinner. “I just wanted her to feel celebrated,” DeAirah said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, however, DeAirah and Felicia faced a new set of challenges. After completing her chemo, Felicia received monthly and then quarterly injections of hormone blockers. Then COVID hit — and suddenly DeAirah was no longer able to accompany her mother on office visits and act as an advocate. In addition, Felicia lost her job and, with it, her health insurance. The additional insurance she took out was still not enough to cover her ongoing care. It only brought down the cost of his hormone blocker injections from $5,000 to $1,500 per injection, for example.
The impact of the pandemic on caregivers is undeniable. According to Embracing Carers, nearly two in three people who provide support to loved ones say the pandemic has made their job more difficult and 77% of caregivers aged 18-34 say the pandemic has made them feel more drained than before. Additionally, in a survey of 952 people with chronic conditions, 15.7% said they faced a loss of income during the pandemic, reports the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The financial pressure can be devastating for anyone, but especially for those with high medical bills.
The challenges posed by the pandemic led Felicia and DeAirah to seek additional support. “I had to call a social worker for the first time,” Felicia told POPSUGAR. Although it was a tough decision, it ended up being a game-changer for both women. “[The social worker] helped us navigate through some available resources that I would never have heard of or people are too proud to reach out to these types of organizations,” says Felicia. , after graduating from college in July 2019. “I told her, I think this is God’s plan, because she was so close to me going through it,” Felicia says.
Despite the emotional and logistical challenges she faced caring for her mother, DeAirah says she wouldn’t change the experience. While DeAirah wouldn’t have thought she’d be able to bond with her mother the way she already had before her diagnosis, the caregiving “has made our relationship better. And as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten better. “, she says.
Interestingly, millennials are more likely than other age groups to say that caregiving is rewarding. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t outdated. Caregiver burnout is real, especially now.
That’s why it’s so important to build a support network. For DeAirah, she finally spoke to a group of women at church about her struggles. “They were very supportive and stepped in and asked if I needed anything. They also reached out to my mom…and they just showered me with prayers,” she says. You can find support groups using the Family Caregiver Alliance Where The National Caregiver Alliance. Both organizations also provide information on financial resources and in-person events and retreats for caregivers and their loved ones.