When somebody you care deeply about receives a cancer diagnosis, your lives can change instantly, and you begin to embark on a cancer journey together.
What to expect
Suddenly you are there to provide emotional support and, in many cases, become a caretaker for that person. You may be the primary provider of assistance with daily living functions, give medications, schedule appointments, and assist with transportation. You may even become involved with navigating insurance and other legal matters.
Some days, it may feel like an impossible task, but it's important to understand that you are such an important part of another person's fight, and what you do can help to make their journey less stressful. It will provide rewards to both of you that you never thought possible.
You will no doubt experience a variety of emotions, including overwhelming sadness, fear, anger, and frustrations, that will leave you feeling like you can't possibly continue at this pace in meeting the constant demands being made of you.
Knowing the signs
"Caregiver Burnout" can become very real, and a combination of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, as well as guilt, can easily change your attitude toward the person you are caring for. Classic signs of "Caregiver Burnout" include:
Withdrawal from family and friends
Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
Irritable, hopeless, helpless, sad
Change in appetite and weight
Change in sleep patterns
Getting sick more frequently
Excessive use of alcohol, medications, and sleeping pills
Neglect or rough treatment of the person you are caring for
Losing control physically and/or emotionally
Feeling of wanting to hurt yourself or the person you are caring for
If you notice any of these signs or are feeling overwhelmed, here are some tips that may help:
Find somebody to confide in. This can help, so you don't feel like you are carrying the whole load on your shoulders.
Educate yourself, learning as much as possible about the illness. Knowledge is power, and it will help you to feel less anxious.
Trust your instincts. If you feel something is off, it usually is.
Encourage independence. Just because you are a caregiver doesn't mean you have to do everything.
Keep a calendar or other device handy, so you can be reminded of appointments, times for medication, etc., and try sticking to a routine. It will help you feel in control and let the person you care for know what to expect.
Stay social and do things every day that you enjoy. It will help you from feeling isolated. It's also important to relax daily to "recharge your batteries."
Exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep will help you feel less stressed, energized, and rested, ready to take on another day.
Most importantly, know your limits and be realistic about what you can do. Then, if you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it.