Care for the Caregivers
Thank you to Jenny Marais - a local Nurse Navigator - for allowing us to republish a portion of chapter 17 from her book, Navigating Your Cancer Journey:
You’re a caregiver if you do anything for a person with cancer that helps them during their treatment...
Being a caregiver is one of the hardest jobs in the world for many reasons. First, it can change your own life in multiple ways. You might feel overwhelmed a lot of the time because of the extra role that has suddenly been thrust upon you. Unlike your loved one with cancer, who’s usually able to take sick leave, many caregivers get no break and have to continue with their normal lives at the same time as caring for their loved one. This forces them to carve out time for the second job of being a caregiver and can mean they’re running on fumes. That can cause tremendous stress.
As the caregiver, there are times that you might feel frustrated, sad, and anxious (“Caregiver Stress Can Make Carers Feel Trapped,” 2011). Other times, you might feel angry about being forced into this position and then guilty for feeling angry. It’s all normal. I remember in my own life when I was caring for my mother-in-law, Lorna. She was only fifty-seven at the time and dying of colon cancer.When she moved in with us, we had just had a new-born, and my routine in Lorna’s last months was to bathe both her and my newborn in the morning, before the business of the day. That meant I had to rush both baths to get them done on time, and it made me angry that I could never enjoy bathing my baby. I felt ashamed for feeling angry, especially because Lorna was a wonderful person whom I genuinely loved, and she’d always been good to me. I don’t know why it made me so angry, but it did. I was okay with everything else, but not the baths. When our baby was three months old, Lorna passed away in my arms, and I lost a loving mother-in-law whom I’d been privileged to have cared for. For a long time after we lost her, I felt guilty about how I’d felt.
The full spectrum of feelings that you may be having as a caregiver are normal. You may be behaving like a superman or woman, but you’re just a person like everyone else, and it is okay to be frazzled. Remember this truth: There’s never a wrong feeling, so you cannot judge yourself or anyone else for how they’re feeling. There’s only a wrong action, specifically if you allow yourself to behave in a way you regret. So allow yourself your feelings, and don’t try to squash them out of sight like I did. Try reading The Guest House by Rumi and allow yourself your feelings—without any judgement.
Some tips to help caregivers:
- Find someone to talk to, and let it all hang out...
- It’s possible that your relationship with your loved one might change now that you’re the caregiver, and they are the one needing help... That can be very confusing for both of you. The positive in that, can be that you might learn something about yourself that you never knew, and if you both allow it, the relationship can grow in a whole new way and become stronger than ever.
- Become good at deciding what really needs to be done today, and leave what can be left for tomorrow...
- Be realistic with your loved one. Some people with cancer lose sight of what’s happening around them because they’re so focused on their disease and treatment. When that happens, they can become irritable, angry, or overly needy. It’s okay to tell them that while you love them and are there to help them, some behavior is not okay. Be firm if you need to be. They’ll appreciate you far more if you speak to them calmly with love, instead of flying off the handle when it all becomes too much for you to handle.
- Try using a journal.
- Make time to do something you love to do.
- Try not to fall into the trap of enabling your loved one. Encourage your loved one to continue with the acts of daily living, You’re not being unhelpful. Rather, you’re helping them with the message that they’re capable and in control. Try your best to keep the power in their hands, which is where it belongs.
You need to give yourself permission to look after yourself. If you don’t start the process of looking after yourself by giving yourself permission to do so, then you won’t. Do it for you, so that you can better care for your loved one. When you look after yourself, you’re caring for your loved one indirectly and helping to ensure a win/win for the both of you. Remember—always— that you’re the rock your loved one stands on, and they need you to be strong for them. Looking after yourself is one way to ensure that you remain strong for them when they need you the most.