The role of caregiver in the cancer scenario is complicated by various emotions and circumstances beyond the control of the caregiver and the person with cancer. Caregiver stress occurs when there isn’t the time to do all that’s asked or expected of one. Caregiver stress evolves into burnout when one is in a state of stress or distress for a prolonged period. In cases when the patient with cancer succumbs to the disease, the caregiver is often left in limbo with numbing emotions. In a new book, The Boxer’s Corner: A Cancer Caregiver’s Story of Love, Loss, and Isolation, Miguel Barron exposes the isolation and loneliness of his experience caring for his wife Nadia as she was diagnosed and treated for cancer. His story reveals the emotional and psychological pressures involved in being the “strong one” for his wife and their two sons.
Title:The Boxer’s Corner: A Cancer Caregiver’s Story of Love, Loss, and Isolation
Author: Miguel Barron
Publisher: Li’l Eg Publishing
Publication Date: May 2019
Price: $18.95, paperback, 151 pages
Hit and Miss
The Boxer’s Corner is a slim book that sometimes suffers the solipsistic musings of a new author. This is a small gripe in that, for the most part, Mr. Barron drills down into the marrow of this precarious situation, which plays out across the country every day. Caregivers are the unsung heroes in the oncology community, most of whom have to learn on the fly as the deadly disease progresses. It becomes clear that the author wrote this book with two goals in mind: to draw attention to the specific physical and emotional travails that cancer inflicts on the patient and caregiver, and also to expose the shortcomings of both the treatment processes and communication skills involved in cancer care. As for the latter, I think this book misses the mark, largely because the author is not knowledgeable enough about the nuances of the medical system and cancer care specifically. He does indeed, however, call needed attention to the experiences of a cancer caregiver.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Nadia was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, and, to his credit, the author brings the reader into the intimate moments when his wife discovers a lump while in the shower, and calls out to her husband in concern. Mr. Barron writes, “I walked into the bathroom and placed my finger on the exact location Nadia was indicating. ‘I really don’t feel anything,’ I replied. ‘But make an appointment with the doctor if you want.’”
Several days later, the author gets a call from his wife, telling him the life-alterning news through a flood of tears, “It’s cancer. It’s cancer, and it’s a really bad kind.” From that point on, Nadia had entered what Susan Sontag described in her iconic Illness as a Metaphor, “Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick…sooner or later each of us is obliged to identify as citizens of that other place.”
A Long, Tough Journey
From that point onward, Mr. Barron becomes a dedicated caregiver, and his love and worry for his wife come across on every page. Some of the more interesting sections deal with Mr. Barron’s relationships with Nadia’s evolving care teams, as the couple seeks second opinions and attempts to find the perfect doctor-patient relationship. “Our doctor … always treated us well, albeit in a somewhat cold and transactional way…. I always wondered what would compel someone to become an oncologist,” shares the author.
This is the up-and-down difficult story that everyone in the oncology community is all too familiar with. After a bright period of hope, Nadia’s cancer recurs with a vengeance, spreading to her lungs and beyond. Although his wife held onto every shred of hope she could, Mr. Barron knew that they’d reached the end of curative therapy. He writes, “The doctor visited us as promised. Nadia asked her what all this means for her, the latest results. The doctor extended her hand and held Nadia’s. In a soft and caring voice, she told Nadia that they had not been able to stop the cancer…. ‘In the best case we can treat you and hopefully give you a couple of months more.’”
Caregivers are the unsung heroes in the oncology community, most of whom have to learn on the fly as the deadly disease progresses.—
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The last sections of the book take the reader on the lonely journey to death that so many patients with cancer ultimately face. Her husband is with her every minute of that sad culmination of a vibrant life cut short. Despite a few missteps from a fledging writer, the author is frank and compassionate, giving readers an intimate look at his wife’s cancer journey. This book is recommended for all who have been touched by cancer. ■