Laughing with my military and veteran caregiver friends about the difficult moments has helped to provide perspective, levity and a sense of belonging.
What are you most excited to do as a Dole Caregiver Fellow?
I am excited to use my story as a bridge between the community, the government, and the lives of military and veteran caregivers. I hope to use my voice to share the resiliency and struggles of our community, spread awareness, and make real change for the thousands of military and veteran caregivers in the United States.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
One piece of advice that I would offer to other military and veteran caregivers is to take a deep breath and try to be present. Often our pasts are traumatic and our futures are uncertain. I have experienced some of the happiest moments by reveling in the little successes of the day, hour, or minute.
What does being a military caregiver mean to you?
Being a military caregiver means working the second shift of keeping my family unit strong. I am the heart and the eyes of our family. I coordinate care, focus on building communication skills and make sure we remember where we have come from while we work towards a better future.
Colleen Rose of the Washington, D.C. area is a military caregiver for her husband, John, who recently retired from the Marine Corps. One of her biggest challenges was being a caregiver while also battling stage 2 breast cancer.
John deployed to Iraq in 2005. During his second tour in Afghanistan in 2010 and just 11 months after their wedding, John was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. He sustained vision loss in his left eye, lost all his teeth on one side, suffered burns on his body and face, and extensive fractures.
When John returned to the United States, he and Colleen spent their first night living under the same roof at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. When John was released from the hospital but still undergoing surgeries and daily therapy, Colleen found comfort from connecting with other caregivers while living at The Fisher House and in housing provided by Operation Homefront. A few years after John’s injuries, he and Colleen were invited to participate in a parade with several wounded warrior families. While on the float, Colleen and John, along with the other families, were struck by a train. Colleen and John were injured, but through their positivity and dedication for each other, they continued to heal once again and together pushed forward.
When Colleen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, caregiving roles reversed and John stepped in to care for her. While caring for one another, John was still motivated to retain his active duty status. After several years of providing care, Colleen helped her husband reach that goal. Today, Colleen is cancer free and in remission and John currently serves as the senior enlisted advisor for Wounded Warrior programs and policy for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve.
Now, Colleen and John are parents to baby Declan and are overjoyed. Having a newborn isn’t easy and has at times complicated Colleen’s care for John. She’s had to start setting reminders for things she used to remember. John’s injuries make it hard to rock the baby for long periods of time, and his impaired vision makes it difficult to clip tiny toenails and do spoon feedings. But despite this, the wonderful addition to their family has made it all worth it. “I can go on and on about how this sweet, smiley, chubby boy has exceeded any expectation I’ve had about being a mother,” says Colleen. “He is our sunshine and makes every day better.”
Colleen continues to support her husband and strengthen the caregiver network within their community. She participated in the Ulman Cancer to 5k program and works as an Occupational Therapist for the Fairfax County Public Schools where she helps children achieve their educational goals.
As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Colleen finds herself in a great position to be an advocate and provide encouragement for all caregivers; sharing her experiences not only as a caregiver, but as a care recipient.