Caregivers are often highly burdened and most ignored. Nothing can prepare you for dealing with cancer in the family. But you can be better informed and better prepared for the crucial role.
“You have cancer”.
These three words are enough to tear your world apart. While it is a turbulent and testing time for the patient, it creates a see-saw of emotions for the family too. It is very easy to get totally absorbed in the medical treatments and/or get caught up in denial and self-pity. But the situation calls for putting the pieces back together, one by one. The most capable family member is forced to take on the mantle of a caregiver and without any preparation or training, dive into a sea of responsibility. This can be overwhelming!
Who is a caregiver?
A caregiver is someone who takes care of the cancer patient (usually unpaid). It could be a parent, partner, sibling, close friend or an adult child.
Role of a caregiver
1. Diagnosis stage
- Assisting in diagnosis: The caregiver is required to accompany the patient during the frequent hospital trips and screening tests, ask the right questions and then make informed decisions on the treatment in consultation with the patient and other members of family.
- Managing the finances: Cancer treatment is expensive and having a critical illness cover definitely helps. But if you don’t have an insurance cover then you must dip into your savings or borrow money. You can take a medical loan from your bank. In addition, you can also approach relatives, friends, or your employer. The other option is to seek financial assistance from government, NGOs or charitable trusts. Crowdsourcing from online platforms (like Milaap) is also possible.
2. Treatment stage
- Assisting in treatment: The caregiver’s role is to follow the doctors’ instructions, ensuring the right diet, medications are taken on time, follow ups and after-care.
- Tender loving care: This is a critical component of healing and recovery, particularly when your loved one is in a fragile and vulnerable state. The caregiver needs to manage the patient’s deteriorating emotional state with great love and compassion. Introducing (and even accompanying) the patient to approaches like yoga, meditation, counselling and coaching, which complement the medical treatment, can help the patient regain physical and emotional strength.
3. Post-treatment stage
- Follow-up and aftercare: The treatment may be over but the side-effects and the after-effects need to be dealt with. You would have to follow up persistently to sustain the benefits of the treatment, so there is no relapse. Sometimes the patient undergoes long-term effects (post-traumatic stress). You may need professional/ clinical help for this.
- Step back and move forward: The patient- caregiver relationship is one of co-dependency. During the recovery phase, it’s perhaps time to step back and encourage the cancer patient to take the leap to independence.
Tips for caregivers while dealing with cancer in the family
It is common for the caregiver to ignore herself or himself while dealing with cancer in the family. As a result of this, there is stress, depression, irritability, constant weight loss/gain, headache, bodyache, dependence on alcohol/ drugs, and even a breakdown of the relationship itself etc. Here are some tips to help you:
- Wear your oxygen mask first: It is important that you don’t forget yourself. If you do not eat well, sleep well, be at peace with yourself, you would not have the energy and frame of mind required to fulfill the demanding role of a primary caregiver.
- Eat to live, not live to eat: Consult experts and research the diet options that the best suits the patient’s requirements. Work out ways that you could make the meal enjoyable. See if you can integrate these new meal choices with the diet of the rest of the family.
- Acknowledge and accept the struggle: If the experience is overwhelming, look for help. You can get a domestic help, nurse, family and friends to assist you.
- From pain to transformation: ‘Pain’ makes you realise what is important to you and learn to prioritise it. There will be moments where you can’t cope and want to simply give up. As you cross one hurdle after the other during the process, you will discover new strength.
- Don’t slide into co-dependence: In the patient-caregiver relationship, the caregiver has power over the patient because patient is dependent on them. That arrangement can be permanent. Give back the power so that both of you become independent of each other.
- Take the relationship as a path to wholeness: Make time for yourself and do something that makes you happy be it sleeping, meditation, pursuing a hobby, reading a book, anything. Then direct your newfound ‘strength’ into creative areas.
- Finally, the immediacy of cancer is behind you, what are you going to do next?
- What would your new roles be like?
- Do you want to put back the cancer experience behind or learn from it?
This time is an opportunity for a new journey of self-discovery for both the patient and caregiver. While dealing with cancer in the family, you have both grown and it’s a good idea to use the lessons you have learned to maintain your overall well-being.
Read more about Giving Care, click here
For more about Family & Finances, click here
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