A Buckeye couple whose marriage was once defined as carefree and “go with the flow” now live their lives intentionally and strategically.
In 2013, Bree Shields became a caregiver for her husband, Sean, after he returned from his deployment in Afghanistan.
In the Army, Sean was involved in multiple firefights and a Humvee accident, resulting in PTSD, anxiety, depression, hearing loss, knee and back injuries, vision impairments, insomnia and a traumatic brain injury.
Bree refers to her transition from a social worker to a full-time caregiver as a “rebirth.”
“It was basically taking everything that he was prior and just erasing all that and now having to figure out what are these new limitations. But the hardest part is having to watch someone you love struggle and be in pain physically and emotionally,” she said.
Prior to Sean’s deployment, Bree said their marriage and everyday lifestyle was carefree, but she now has to be very intentional with their day-to-day routine.
What used to be simple days out in public now revolve around her ability to adapt to Sean’s needs.
“When we’re in public, if he’s struggling with something, whether that’s his pain or if there’s a certain noise or sound that he hears, or there’s too many people, it’s just too overwhelming for his brain,” she said.
Bree’s days vary between phone calls with the VA or attempts to find new ways of physical therapy during a pandemic.
“The pandemic has definitely been like ‘Groundhog Day’ for us,” she said. “Some days felt like the same day over and over, so I have to be really diligent. I make sure we get outside for a certain amount of time per day, even if we’re just sitting in the sun.”
To find a sense of community as a caregiver, Bree became involved in the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and is serving a two-year term as a caregiver fellow.
As a fellow, Bree directly helps other caregivers by offering her expertise in nutrition and wellness, as well as sharing her experience to help offer advice. She organized a Veterans Day event last year that offered supplies, resources and information to more than 100 caregivers.
For Bree, she said it’s important that Arizona understands that it’s not only the veteran who deserves support, but the caregiver as well.
“I want people to know about a caregiver’s impact and I want our Arizona community to know that military caregivers are a thing and how we can best support them,” she said.
Initially, Bree said the stress of taking care of another person was overwhelming.
“At the beginning, there was no space to give myself. My job was keeping my husband alive, first and foremost, and I had space for nothing else. But when I started to give to myself in small ways though self-care, my care for my husband actually got better,” she said.
For caregivers who are just starting their journey, Bree said her best advice would be to get involved in a community.
“I thought that I was alone on my journey and that was a really heavy weight to carry. The quicker you can get connected to a community, the better it will be, because you’ll be around people who completely understand what it is that you are going through,” she said.
Additionally, Bree expressed the importance of celebrating and redefining victories, as well as finding time for respite as a caregiver. As a fellow for the foundation, Bree is also an advocate for Hidden Heroes, a respite relief program for military and veteran caregivers.
“They’re called ‘hidden heroes,’ but this year I’m making it a goal to make them not so hidden,” Bree said. “They have an amazing online community that is really healthy and very purpose driven by providing resources to empower caregivers along their journey. It’s important to let them know that there are resources out there and they don’t have to live a life that is burnt out.”
For more information on the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, visit
elizabethdolefoundation.org, and for information on Hidden Heroes visit