Chronic illness: A delicate balance

Chronic illness can be a great place to compete without showing it. Who’s calling the shots, the patient or the caregiver? The ill spouse or the well spouse?

There is terrific power in each role – the caregiver and the patient. If the caregiver overplays their role, the ill person can feel more anxious and more disabled, giving the patient permission to curl up and sit. If the patient overplays their role, the caregiver takes on unnecessary tasks impacting their health and their ability to be an effective caregiver. For both the caregiver and the patient, balance can be a tough line to hold.

Days before my husband’s stem cell transplant.

On the other hand, it’s terribly difficult to sit and watch your spouse struggle with discomfort and risk a fall to carry a plate to the kitchen counter.

Finding Balance

Often the ill or disabled person doesn’t know what they can and can’t do until they try. Let them try and fail and then let them ask for help. Jumping in and doing it for them, before they have tried or asked for help, whittles at their independence and creates the polarizing dynamic that often happens when a chronic illness hits a family.

As my caregiving role evolved, I found myself doing far more for my husband than necessary. And by doing so, I was slowly stripping him of his independence and creating unnecessary angst for myself.

Letting Go

Helpful advice I received half way through my caring journey: “Don’t do things for your ill spouse that they can do for themselves.” For days after receiving this advice, I found myself acutely aware of how I was assuming more responsibilities around the house and for my husband than I needed to.

As the Well Parent™ we must move in the direction of letting go, even if it means sitting with our mouths shut and listening for the plate to crash to the floor. It’s not easy to do, but to survive the long haul it’s critical.


Jeannie Gazzaniga Moloo PhD, MS, RDN cared for her late physician husband through 12 years of blood cancer treatments, including a stem cell transplant, while raising their three young children. She is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and former owner of a clinical nutrition practice where she advised clients on healthy eating to manage heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and gastrointestinal conditions. She is a Ph.D. in epidemiology, with an emphasis in preventive medicine and environmental health. For nine years, she was a national media spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics providing sound, science-based nutrition advice to media, consumers, industry, and researchers. She has been quoted in several publications including the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, and Parents Magazine, and appeared on ABCNews, CBSNews, NBCNews, NPR, and KYGO-FM.

Reader Interactions


  1. Cathy Pfannkuch says

    Do you have any good websites to go to for information on CLL? I husband is 62 and has been diagnosed with it. He has no symptoms right now but is questioning if he should retire and enjoy life. We cannot find a lot of information. I read about you in my AARP magazine. Thank you very much for any help.

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