Bryan's Story: From Youth Caregiver to College Student


One day, during a regular Caregiving Youth Project (CYP) school "Lunch and Learn" session, diabetes was the topic of the month. Bryan, a sixth grader, overheard a discussion about "sugar" and knew that both his parents were diabetic. As he listened longer, he approached the resource table and learned that help could be available for his family and for him.

Along with diabetes, Bryan's father was legally blind and his mom had had open heart surgery two days before. Worrying about his parents has made it tough for Bryan to focus on his schoolwork. His focus didn't improve much when he went home because his home was recently "invaded" by three young nephews. The sons of Bryan's older sister were living with them to avoid foster care placement, so his mother became a grandmother who was raising her grandchildren.

Unsurprisingly, there was little space or quiet time for Bryan to focus and do his homework. Plus, he had extra home responsibilities because his mom's recuperation from multiple surgeries was slow and his dad would periodically leave their home.

One of Bryan's regular responsibilities was cooking. He had started making dinner one evening, when his father asked him to ride his bike to the drug store to pick up some medications for his mom. Bryan left the house, completely forgetting about what was on the stove.

Bryan was used to hearing sirens, so he paid little attention to the ones he heard while he was at the pharmacy. As he turned the corner of his street, there they were—fire engines in front of his home! He suddenly realized he left the stove on! Thankfully, there was only significant kitchen and smoke damage!

Bryan is now a young adult. He still has a smile that lights up a room. One would never know that he was a caregiving youth—now or then.

Bryan entered the CYP in 6th grade in 2007 and, after receiving many support services including tutoring, graduated high school and now attends college. Along the way, his mom also had to have back surgery. Bryan credits his ability to take this next educational step to the support he received from the CYP and knowledge that he wasn't alone as a caregiving youth trying to get through school.

Today, the CYP remains in touch with his family and supports his nephews, who have taken on Bryan's role while he remains in college.

At the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY), we strive to not only give young heroes like Bryan a voice by raising awareness of the miracles they perform on a daily basis, but also to provide direct support and resources to allow them to balance receiving a primary education with caregiving responsibilities.

To hear more stories of school-aged caregivers and help spread the word about the challenges they face, visit the AACY's "Caregiver Voices" page.

Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD has a broad background in health care and a dedication to diminishing caregiving ramifications for family caregivers of all ages. Her passion led to the establishment of a nonprofit that evolved from supporting homebound adults and caregiving families to become the American Association for Caregiving Youth.

American Assoc. for Caregiving Youth

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Bryan might be interested in "Marianne's Story" in my book, "What to Do about Mama?" (See Chapter Six.) In it, Marianne states:
• I provided care for both my mother and my father. My mother had multiple sclerosis my entire life, so my caregiving began as early as age 4, when I simply offered my hand to help steady her walking gait.
• Mom’s disease limited her activities with me somewhat as a child, but I never felt it was a serious impediment. Although we never could go camping or skiing (something I did with my kids), we bonded more at double-feature scary movies—something she could do and enjoyed. At age 16, I took over more family errands, but I considered it a treat to get to drive around town in Mom’s car. The Internet became the biggest godsend for my mom as her mobility was increasingly limited. It allowed her to “travel” to the places I visited and find cool sites to share with us before our travels. She communicated with other MS patients nationally via the Internet—a bit of a support system for her—and eventually she crowned herself “Queen of MS Patients” because she couldn’t find anyone online who had the disease longer. (No doubt, there may have been others around, but it was fun for her to self-designate as the “Queen.”)
• In college, I transferred home for one semester at the time my mom had to start using a wheelchair because it was a major life transition for her. But it wasn’t a hardship for me because I had planned to transfer schools anyway. After one semester in St. Louis I moved on to a new school, and my support role reverted to telephone support.
• I made use of the counseling services offered by hospice after Mom died, mostly to discuss my lifelong sense of “responsibility” for her care and the unknown nature of what my dad would need.