A hybrid of feminist memoir and cultural critique, my book in progress ALREADY TOAST: CAREGIVING UNDER PROTEST is a timely exploration of the unpaid, often invisible labor of caring for the seriously ill, emphasizing the perspective of the younger caregiver. When my husband was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma two years ago, and subsequently endured a risky and near-fatal bone marrow transplant, I was entirely unprepared for how heavily the burden of caregiving would fall on me—and how thoroughly it would take over my life.
As I struggled to cope with the strain of my partner's rare and severe illness and all responsibility for formerly shared childcare and household management, I found I had no time, and no sustained attention, for my work as a freelance writer. I also had little time for reading, a favorite pursuit, though in odd moments I returned for comfort to old favorites: Little Women, Jane Eyre, and more. I found them to be full of forgotten caregivers, many of whose challenges looked surprisingly familiar to my modern eyes. The book, which employs a creative-nonfiction style, offers a raw look at the challenges of caregiving and engages critically with the contemporary culture of cancer and illness, especially the rah-rah think-positive memes that push women in particular to sugarcoat their experience, framing it as a “journey” or glibly telling sufferers “you got this!” Throughout, I weave in discussion of classic books that depict caregiving, using these to structure the book thematically around issues ranging from my and my husband’s appearance changes to questions of duty and equality in modern marriage. I argue throughout that the modern medical establishment takes the hidden work of family caregivers, particularly women, for granted—but that that work comes with a serious emotional cost for the women involved, as it did for me.
For an excerpt from the introduction, please see below.
Kate Washington is at work on a manuscript about caregiving in her life, our culture, and literature. She holds a Ph.D. in Victorian literature from Stanford University.