Navigating Love and Care: Brian and Kate McDonnell's Inspiring Journey

We are honoured to share an intimate and heartfelt interview with our owners/directors, Brian and Kate McDonnell, as part of our celebration of Carers Week.
This annual campaign holds a special place in our hearts, as it aligns perfectly with our mission to raise awareness about the challenges faced by carers, both paid and unpaid, and to recognise their immense contributions to families and communities across the United Kingdom.
Brian, can you tell me a little about your caregiving journey? How long have you been caring for Kate, and what led you to take on this role? 

To be honest, I didn’t initially view myself as a carer; I was simply Kate’s partner and then husband. I think this is quite common for people who find themselves in our situation. In a relationship, the roles of husband and wife take precedence, forming the foundation of the partnership. I found that the caregiving aspect just naturally developed on from that.

As Kate’s illness progressed, my caregiving responsibilities gradually increased. This journey began over 40 years ago when the term “carer” was not as widely recognised or used. Identifying myself as a carer often needed further explanation. At that time, it was much more common for women to assume the ‘invisible’ role of carer, so people were often, understandably, puzzled finding a man in that role.

Brian, could you elaborate on the dynamics of your caregiving relationship?

Fundamentally, it’s built on trust and it’s important to acknowledge that the cared-for person and the caregiver often have distinct perspectives and experiences. Personally, I have always felt more at ease providing care than being on the receiving end, as I think I would find that quite challenging – the idea of having to let go of your able-bodied self.

I vividly recall an incident that highlighted this difference in perspectives. Many years ago, we rented an electric wheelchair to do some shopping in town. After returning to the car, I decided to take the wheelchair back to the rental depot myself. The most practical way to do this was to sit in the chair and ride it back. This experience proved to be quite eye-opening, as I navigated my way through town in the wheelchair and noticed how people’s perceptions of me shifted, assuming I had a disability.

After returning the wheelchair and standing up to walk away, I couldn’t help but think about how fortunate I was to have the ability to do so. This experience underscored the unique challenges and viewpoints that come with being the cared-for person.

Even though Kate and I make a strong team, we each have our own distinct roles and perspectives within our partnership.

Kate, how has Brian’s support as a carer impacted your life and well-being? 

It’s incredibly difficult to find the right words to express the profound impact that Brian’s support has had on my life! His unwavering dedication and assistance have been so enabling that, much of the time, I’ve been able to completely forget about my disability and the limitations I face. 

The support he has given me has been truly transformative, allowing me to experience a sense of fulfilment and independence that would have been utterly impossible without him.

It’s important to clarify that when I mention forgetting about Brian’s support, it’s not that I take it for granted. Rather, it’s a testament to how seamlessly we work together as a team.

Brian, how do you and Kate approach the sharing of tasks? 

We’ve settled on a well-balanced division of labour between us, naturally gravitating towards the tasks that suit our individual strengths and capabilities. This (generally!) harmonious collaboration has become an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to tackle challenges that come our way as a team.

This teamwork was particularly essential when we became parents. Anyone with young children knows how full-on looking after lively toddlers can be. Throw in illness and disability and the dynamic is even more interesting – you can’t push a wheelchair and a pram at the same time! Like most parents, we wanted to create a nurturing and stable environment for our children and provide them with as ‘normal’ an upbringing as possible despite the extra challenges we faced. Our shared goal was to ensure that their childhood was as fulfilling and enriching as it could be.

Looking back, I can say with pride that our combined efforts yielded positive results… our children didn’t turn out too badly!

In your opinion, what role does the relationship between the caregiver and the cared-for person play in the caregiving experience?

Relationship is everything! People who need care often worry about being a burden to their loved ones.  I consider myself very fortunate to be cared for out of love. When caregiving comes from a place of genuine affection and concern, it has the power to transform the experience for both parties involved. 

This is a principle we strive to uphold at Cavalry: our aim is for carers to approach their work with a sense of loving-kindness towards the individuals they support. While professional boundaries must be maintained, we believe that carers at Cavalry should be truly invested in the activities, progression, and development of those in their care. This authentic commitment to the well-being of others is what we aspire to foster within the caregiving community.

Ultimately, the relationship between the caregiver and the cared-for person is the foundation upon which meaningful and impactful care is built.


The expectations we have of carers are huge. We often require them to possess a very diverse skill set, along with a high degree of emotional intelligence. The ability to tune in to the hopes and dreams of the person they are supporting is key, along with a creative determination to help make them happen.  

The role of a carer is truly complex and demanding, yet the standing of carers within the community often does not reflect this. In some ways, they let the rest of society off the hook by taking responsibility for aspects of life some people would rather forget.

Brian, what were some of the practical and social challenges you faced as caring for someone with a disability, and how did you navigate these obstacles?

Attitudes towards disability were certainly not always as progressive as they are today.

For example, wheelchair users who wanted to make a train journey used to be asked to travel in the goods carriage instead of a passenger compartment and we’d often be told by shops or businesses, “Sorry, you can’t come in. We don’t have any facilities for you,” or “We’re unable to accommodate you as your presence constitutes a fire hazard” – which was rather dispiriting, to say the least!

At the time, we tried to conquer as many of these practical challenges as possible, talking to staff on the spot, writing to proprietors about access etc. Thankfully, things have much improved today.

It’s also a fact that disabled people and their carers are amongst some of the poorest in society and that situation can lead you to feel excluded from many activities that most people take for granted.

Brian, how did you navigate situations where people struggled to understand your role as a caregiver?

When people lack first-hand experience with a situation, it can be difficult for them to fully understand it.  I would often be asked, “How does that kind of arrangement work?” I found myself having to explain and justify my decision repeatedly.  

However, for me, the choice to become a caregiver felt like the most natural thing in the world. There was no real decision to be made; it was simply something that I instinctively knew was right.

I recognise that for many people, the decision to become a caregiver could be much more difficult as it can be incredibly demanding both emotionally and physically. However, I must emphasise that for me, it has been an incredibly rewarding and privileged experience.

I’m not saying this simply because Kate is sat next to me, I genuinely feel that the opportunity to care for her has enriched my life in countless ways. 

Kate, how did your perspective on being cared for evolve over time?

In the early stages, it was incredibly challenging, moving from being an independent, active and healthy young woman to needing support with the most basic aspects of life. It was a period of great turmoil and profound adjustment as I struggled to come to terms with the new reality.

As I became physically more limited, I became more mentally active, developing a passion for literature and using writing to help figure things out. Brian supported me in all of this.

As time passed, my understanding and acceptance of the situation deepened, and we learned to navigate the challenges together.

After 20 years of acute illness and multiple surgical interventions, my condition improved to the point where I was able to consider returning to work, with Brian’s fulltime assistance. This was a big moment for the whole family and felt risky, but also exciting.

We had to reassess our roles and responsibilities once again, adapting to the changes and finding a new balance that worked for both of us.

Kate, in what ways has Brian’s care helped you maintain your independence and quality of life?

When we founded Cavalry, our primary goal was to help people live their lives to the fullest extent possible – as Brian has done for me.

Living life to the fullest can take many forms: there were times when my condition was at its worst and simply taking painkillers and resting in bed was the most I could manage. In those moments, Brian’s care and understanding were invaluable in helping me cope with the challenges I faced. I discovered that, even in those circumstances, life can still be rich.

Then, later, there were periods when I was able to follow a very active and fulfilling career, despite being a wheelchair-user, travelling to various parts of the world with Brian’s assistance. His support and encouragement were instrumental in enabling me to pursue my professional goals and make the most of the opportunities that came my way.

Throughout the ups and downs of my condition, Brian has been a constant source of positivity and motivation. He has consistently helped me maintain an optimistic outlook and encouraged me to do as much as I could no matter what the disease threw at us. 

Brian’s dedication to supporting me in living a fulfilling life, regardless of the limitations imposed by my condition, perfectly embodies the core values and mission of Cavalry. His love, care, and unwavering commitment have been the driving force behind our ability to navigate this journey together and make the most of every moment. 

Join us on Friday for the second part of this incredible interview with Brian and Kate. As we continue to celebrate Carers Week, their story serves as a powerful reminder of the vital role that carers play in our society and the importance of supporting them in their efforts.
At Cavalry, we are dedicated to providing the highest quality of care and support to those who need it most. We believe that by sharing Brian and Kate’s journey, we can inspire others to recognise the value of carers and the incredible work they do every day.

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