Who cares for you? Addressing care giver needs
You have just heard that someone you know has cancer. You need to take care of this person .
The initial shock may last for a few days and then you start thinking about your role as a care giver and the responsibilities that go with it.
Who is a care giver? Usually a family member – most often the spouse, son, daughter in law, daughter, brother, sister, sometimes an aged parent or even a neighbour or a friend .
The demands that come with this role and the impact that this will have on your life depends on the person you are caring for and the extent of care required.
Navigating the maze of caregiving is tricky. What does caring mean? It is managing the needs of the person you are caring for and your own physical and emotional needs too.
The experience of dealing with the diagnosis , especially communication , in many instances is emotionally draining. Many times the family chooses not to disclose the diagnosis to the patient particularly in advanced cancer.
Whatever it is, it involves balancing caregiving with other demands such as work, family, study etc. It could be for a short time or for many months or even years.
Some fit into the role of care giving very naturally, willingly while others may be forced into it out of a sense of duty.
The Caring Role :
- Varies , depending on the situation.
- Can change over time
It could involve managing medical, emotional , practical, sometimes legal and financial worries too.
A care giver may be accompanying the patient to the hospital, managing medication administration, managing side effect, offering emotional support, preparing meals, updating family and friends about the status or progress of the patient’s condition.
That’s almost a 24/7 responsibility .
But, it’s important to understand your own feelings too. You could experience a wide range of feelings that can be an emotional roller coaster- from a sense of satisfaction that you are helping someone to absolute helplessness and distress when things are not going well.
Common feelings encountered are worry, anger, frustration, and stress, a feeling of being out of control, exhaustion, burnout, guilt, loneliness, and depression.
How to manage your emotions?
Although it is hard to find time and energy to look after your own emotional wellbeing , you can use some simple strategies to feel in control :
Take a break, a respite; get someone to pitch in for a few hours on a weekly basis
Relax, read, and listen to music,practive mindfulness & meditation
Join a yoga class, take Taichi lessons
Regular exercise has shown to help with anger, stress and anxiety
Talk ! – share your concerns. Uncertainty can be very stressful. To find out what to expect, speak with the doctor.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself, don’t feel guilty . No one is perfect . Its a demanding role and accept that you are doing your best.
Consider joining a support group – face to face or onlin e. It could be empowering .
Accept help – to reduce workload.
All these techniques may help you overcome venting out your frustrations or anger which may adversely impact patient’s wellbeing.
Caring for yourself
While caring can be rewarding, through the sense of satisfaction it provides, it can affect your health and wellbeing , relationships, career and finances.
It can drain you physically and emotionally.
Ensure you don’t neglect your own needs .
Eat healthy, try to get enough rest/sleep, exercise, have regular medical check ups.
Ask for help – it is difficult sometimes, but is not a sign of weakness. It will definitely relieve some of your stress and pressure. People want to help.
How to Cope
At times when you feel burdened or overwhelmed
- Focus on the value of caring – acknowledge that it is a demanding, difficult task that you have taken on and giving it the best you can .
- Many find that this is a time when a spiritual connect is discovered and introspection helps in personal development
- Feel good about the new skills that you may be learning along the way – feeding, nursing . A lot of knowledge is gained with this experience
- Learn to enjoy the discipline, commitment , love, that this role brings with it.
- Many people look back on the period of caring and are filled with a sense of satisfaction that cannot be quantified.
- Set boundaries and limits- about what you are comfortable doing, what you can manage.
- It helps to prioritise and organise your time, keep a journal to note the good days and bad.
- Make time for yourself – socialise, exercise .
Over time, expect that relationships can change, especially with spouses, children. New roles and responsibilities will crop up as the disease progresses especially in advanced cancer.
Empathy is necessary along with a clear understanding of what will help the patient , especially when they start feeling annoyed or distressed at the loss of independence . Many times you may think it selfish on your part to talk about your needs when the other’s need or discomfort is much more , but remember that you can provide better quality of care only if you take care of yourself .
With advancing disease, you will have to shift your mind set from maintaining hope to accepting palliative care., especially if it involves someone you deeply love.
Remember that through all this you need not be alone. A Support group for caregivers is a dependable shoulder for you to lean on and help you surf the choppy sea of caring .