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004: Caregiving, Emotional Suppression, and Resisting Societal Expectations

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

A guys caregiving survival guide.

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Episode Summary:

In this episode of the Your Killer Life podcast, Tammey gives the microphone to her co-host, Griff Woodford who talks with guest Michael Baltierra in this special episode that is centered around the caregiver. Whether a cancer diagnosis or any other long-term life-altering disease, the caregiver is the patient’s key ally serving as a person of support and care. Often unassuming and occasionally ignored, we learn firsthand the struggles, triumphs, and needs of our unsung anchors. Griff and Mike share their caregiver stories, unique perspectives, and outline the pressures that are often felt by men as they address fear, emotion, stress, and the often oppressive societal norms that are counter to the valid emotional needs and mental health of the caregiver.

“…there's this big misconception, whether it's with the actual patient or the caregiver, that this is supposed to take a specific amount of time.” -Griff Woodford Click to tweet

Topics in this Episode:

  • Introduction

  • Our caregiver Stories

  • Male perspective and introspection

  • Mission oriented mindset

  • Caregiving and patient partnership

  • Trained to limit emotion

  • Caregiver resources for the workplace and finances and home

  • The hard parts of caregiving

  • Losing acquaintances and gaining friends

  • The rewards of becoming stronger

  • Becoming a resource for others

  • Adapting to the “after”

  • The healthcare experience may not be the same for everyone

  • Signing off

Contact Information and Social Links:

Guest Contact Information and Social Links:




Griff: Hello and welcome to the Your Killer Life podcast. I am your alternative host, Griff Woodford. I am here with a, a cool guy by the name of Mike Baltierra. Mike, you wanna say hi?

Mike: Hey, how's it going, everybody? Uh, as Griff said, my name is Michael Baltierra. I am located in Covington, Washington, and I used to work with Tammey who is Griff’s significant other a few years ago. And actually a little more than a few years ago, probably about a decade ago. And we've kept in contact ever since. And, I'm glad to be here today. I'm glad to have been asked to do this with Griff, and I'm looking forward to the topic, and whatever it is we want to discuss today.

Griff: Yeah, likewise, man. So for our listeners, what we're discussing today effectively is on on the same cancer, cancer, cancer train.

The difference being from the perspective of the caregiver, and um in a smaller subset… subset for that is the, uh, the male aspect of, of caregiver.

Our caregiver stories

Griff: So. Why is this important? Right? So what we'll typically, well I won’t once they typically, I don't want to generalize, but often cases the, um, the person with the disease, they're the one that gets the focus, right?

Where in order to support that person, well, exactly that, the primary person who's supporting that, is often kind of left in the shadows and that can create problems.

Mike: Just … I am only talking from a parent's perspective, I'm not talking from a partner's perspective or even with my, my dad gone through prostate cancer about 20 years ago.

When you, when you as a parent, have a child that is going through a dreadful disease. And I, unfortunately, um both, my twins have gone through something. My son Zach, who's the oldest twin, he went through a Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma twice. His younger brother or his twin brother, uh, went through Rasmussen's encephalitis when he was six.

And so we've got, we've actually gone through two, actually three stages cause Zach had cancer twice. Uh, three stages of caregiving, trying to take care of children who went through life threatening illnesses or things that could be pretty catastrophic.

Male perspective and introspection

Mike: And so the female is always expected to be the one that was always going to be there, while the male or the whomever partner, um, however you want to look at, you know, the gender roles today. Goes to work, puts food on the table and make sure that everything's taken care of financially and with insurance and whatever else.

Whereas the mother or whomever is designated as the caregiver is the one who's supposed to be the one left behind who's going to, you know, be providing, uh, initial bedside care when they're not at a medical facility, get the medications needed to whomever. And though you're really, really focused and you really are occupied a great majority of the day at one year, it's your time to take a break, so to speak.

That's the time where you sit there and reflect, and you're wonder what is going on. How am I going to do some self-care? How can I take care of myself and where can I get the support that I need? Because a lot of people think, especially when you're a guy, oh, you should just suck it up. You know, and just put in some intestinal fortitude and just carry on with your day. “Dude you're there to set the example.”

Mission oriented mindset

Mike: When in reality, the whole thing is you're actually crumbling and you're falling apart mentally, emotionally. And if you're spiritual - spiritually as well, cause it makes you question what, you know… well, if there's a, if there's another being outside of this world, why is he picking on my children? And if he's trying to set an example. Did I do something wrong in a previous life or something?

And we always have these doubts and these questions, and you don't have an answer for it.

And you don't have anybody who you can, I mean, you have friends or you have buddies or you may have hobbies with, or you may have something in common with. But the problem is when none of them have ever gone through any of this, they have no idea how to, how to react when you reach out for help.

“That's the time where you sit there and reflect, and you're wonder what is going on. How am I going to do some self-care? How can I take care of myself and where can I get the support that I need? Because a lot of people think, especially when you're a guy, oh, you should just suck it up. You know, and just put in some intestinal fortitude and just carry on with your day. “Dude you're there to set the example.” When in reality, the whole thing is you're actually crumbling and you're falling apart…” -Michael Baltierra Click to tweet

Griff: Absolutely, absolutely. You know, and my, my experience with caregiving, obviously it's certainly different than yours, not from a parent perspective, but as you mentioned, a significant other, you know, my brief background and what I did has been effectively in the combat field my entire adult life, aside from the last four years, really, which was effectively Tammey's diagnosis, the, uh, the high stress career, that type of thing.

It attracts a certain personality type, which. To your point, always kind of expecting that the feminine element of a relationship or a unit is the one in charge of caregiving. You know, I mean, it often feels like the masculine has a disadvantage in that, you know, we're not necessarily, I wouldn't say built, but our, our biology doesn't necessarily reflect that, um, that shepherding aspect.

It's the, the hunter gatherer, right? Just as exactly as you said, you know, the one going out, providing, making sure that the caretaker is taken care of. You know, the person that needs care has the appropriate financial stability and that type of thing.

Patient partnership

Mike: Also, from a younger age too. We're also, as men, we're ingrained from society, even from family members that you know… you're not allowed to show emotion. You're not allowed to be upset. You're not allowed to wear your heart on your sleeve.

You know, you're a guy. You know, you're, you're the, you're the rock. You have to be concrete. You have to be the one who sets the example for everybody else. If you want to make through, make it through these difficult times, then you gotta like I said earlier, you gotta suck it up.

You know? And that's not fair because that's why people. I found a lot of my friends who suffer, suffer from depression or anxiety because they've never had an outlet to be able to, they don't have that safety valve that most people may have, whether it's going to train martial arts or going to the gym or whatever else.

A lot of these people are also, they're not introverted, they're very introverted. They're not extroverts. So, they have a hard time showing their emotion. So, they have a hard time expressing themselves to others? And so, that's why, you know, a great majority of the people I know who have done any type of, uh, oncology care or any type of caregiver services for their loved ones, they are suffering and they're suffering in silence and there's no one out there to listen to them.

Griff: Yeah, I would completely agree with that. I mean it from a young age and, uh, you know, my, my personal career path, I mean, that was just a staple that was not negotiable. You, you are mission oriented all the time. Uh, it's not saying that you can't have emotion, but the job always comes first. You know, there, there is not that, “this is your, allotted decompression or, um, you know, self-introspection time”, it is mission first. When you're done, you take the time that you can, then you move on, right back to mission. And you know, the, the reality is, is that there's a lot of far reaching implications in that mindset. And it does develop into the caregiver mindset, particularly for male caregivers.

Uh, again, I don't like to generalize, but you know, uh, from the breast cancer perspective, you know, that's obviously the, the majority of that is as women. And to me now anyway, it's a pretty obvious parallel why the divorce rate is so incredibly high between husband and wife who experienced that, you know, really any oncology type, uh, treatment or, um, cancer oriented disease.

Because there is that. I won't say one sided, but I will in some cases say unfair expectation of both parties to not just have to go through this horrifying and traumatic disease, but also maintain a societal and social norm of a “gender role,” for lack of a better term, right?

Trained to limit emotion

Griff: When in reality, this is a, this is a communal partnership. It's not about race or gender. It's about what each person needs in that moment in order to be successful.

I would say the reason why it's not more common knowledge to that is because it's freaking hard, man. Like it's, it's difficult to be vulnerable with someone who is already vulnerable in a vulnerable state.

Caregiver resources for the workplace and finance and home

Griff: And as a guy, and I, I'll speak for myself and myself alone in this one, you know, when I would see Tammey hurting. In any capacity, whether it was physical care or psychological care. My stuff goes out the window. I do not care about what I'm feeling right now. My job is to make her better, at least as better as I possibly can with the skillsets that I have and the experience that I have.

You know, it was about a year and a half of that, of just powering through and then, holy crap, man, like it was just about, you know, cut the parachute time. You know, I mean, really, I have no one to blame myself on that. And fortunately, you know, we, within that year and a half, we developed the, the strengthened bond of a, of a relationship that, that allowed for kind of that effective meltdown, right.

And understanding that, um, you know, well, it's about time, dude.

You know, I think that was pretty much her, her exact statement is like, well, where have you been the whole time? You know, I mean, you, you have this ability, you just need to talk to me about it right.

Mike: Well, in order to keep my son motivated throughout his, you know, um, first his chemotherapy treatments, and then eventually his bone marrow transplant. I wouldn't show any emotion in front of him at all.

I would say that for the sounds really lame, just let me go in the shower for 20 minutes and just let, just cry, you know?

Griff: Yeah.