By: Laura Trujillo, Medical psychiatrist.
The majority of people have or have had a family member or a friend who has suffered from cancer and knows that this disease generates an emotional impact from the moment of diagnosis.
As science advances, cancer becomes a disease with a lower mortality rate, but with a longer duration and therefore the changes in family and caregiver dynamics take longer.
The support and containment that the group of caregivers can give to the patient is a protective factor for handling with this process and for improving the quality of life.
This can be of different dimensions, all equally important: emotional, confidential, medical assistance and transportation, decision making and economic. When the dynamics of caregiving are healthy, the process of adaptation becomes easier.
Those who assume a caregiving role will have a unique relationship with cancer. This is why being a caregiver is a challenging but enriching experience. Being a caregiver implies an important change in daily, work and social activities. However, this experience is rewarding because you have the opportunity to care for a loved one.
As a caregiver, you may experience a wide variety of feelings and it is important to understand that these are common during illness.
The following are some of the expected feelings in the process:
- Fear: this may be due to the feeling of not having control over the situation or the fact of not knowing what is happening or how the disease is going to evolve.
- Anger and frustration: it is frequent when they feel that their efforts are not recognized or they perceive a lack of support from those around them. In most circumstances the caregiver does the best he/she can and the person being cared for may not respond as expected.
- Guilt: this can occur from the time of diagnosis with questioning of the cause of the illness, during the process and care and at the end of the illness. There may be guilt in becoming angry with the person being cared for, for putting one’s own responsibilities aside, or for feeling that things are not done in the best way.
- Loneliness: by putting aside one’s own needs for the sake of the other and feeling that no one else is supportive in caregiving.
- Sadness: when things do not go as expected, there is deterioration in the disease or the strategies to help are exhausted. Hopelessness, crying and sadness are common.
Although these emotions can be adaptive, it is important to identify when they become persistent and begin to affect quality of life and functionality. At this point one should seek personal help/support and encourage their caregiver role to be substituted from time to time.
To maintain emotional stability, it is important to have healthy lifestyle habits that help improve the caregiver’s physical and mental condition.
The following are some recommendations that can help with this role:
- Learning about the patient’s specific diagnosis will facilitate management.
Here are some questions that may help:
- Who should I call in case of a question about treatment?
- Where can I take the patient in case of an emergency?
- What information should I always have on hand when I consult?
- Accept help.
Being in charge of someone else can sometimes make you feel as if you are out of control. You will have new responsibilities, routines and demands, but you will also have to take care of your own obligations. That is why you must find a balance in order to complete your activities. Be patient, try to prioritize your pending tasks. These are some questions that may help:
- What is the most important pending?
- What things can wait?
- What could other people help me with, what could I delegate?
The most important thing to remember is that you are doing the best you can.
- Set limits, prioritize your needs.
Being a caregiver can increase stress levels. Try to maintain your own space that doesn’t include caring for others. Taking time for yourself is not selfish, it’s healthy!
Being well is the first step to helping others.
Make time for yourself, don’t limit yourself. Sometimes you need minutes and sometimes days for rest.
Maintain enjoyable activities: sports, crafts, going out with friends, going to the movies, reading.
It is healthy to say that you cannot fulfill a caregiving role when you have an activity planned. Ask for help and replacement caregivers.
Sometimes you will not feel comfortable with caregiving. Report it and look for options for change.
If you feel overwhelmed or overburdened, seek help.
Keep an updated list of people who are willing to help and lighten your load. Contact them when you need help.
- Techniques to manage stress and negativity.
It is normal to feel guilty when you take time for yourself, feel angry about having a sick loved one, or feel that your needs or desires are less important.
You should look for strategies to help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Meditate, there are multiple programs to help you do this – Healing Presents has some wonderful ones!
- Practice yoga, do breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, listen to relaxing music, make a craft, paint mandalas.
All aids, no matter how small you perceive them, are gifts for the patient.
Being a caregiver helps you develop skills you didn’t know you had and gives you a strength you didn’t think you had.