Being a caregiver was the hardest job I never applied for.
Like so many others, I was thrust into this position of responsibility and care without training, guidance or support. But I did it willingly because the person needing care was someone I dearly loved.
Throughout the care giving journey I learned many lessons and tips. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I think I can share with someone new to care giving is that it’s OK to ask for help. You don’t need to do this alone.
Most caregivers put their own needs and feelings aside when giving care to their loved one with cancer. I never thought about myself or my needs during that time. I was acting out of desperation to find any and all ways I could help ease the burden of lung cancer on my dad and my family. In an uncontrollable situation I was constantly trying to find things I could control. It kept me busy, it kept my mind occupied from wandering into negative scenarios or thoughts about losing my dad. But I later found out that putting your needs aside for a long time isn’t good for your health.
Your own health may fail and you may not be able to care for your loved one. And they need you.
This is why it’s important to ask for help.
It’s common to feel stressed and overwhelmed during the cancer journey. Like your loved one, you may feel angry, sad, or worried. Try to share your feelings with others who can help you. I had the Lung Cancer Support Community members, and I tried to talk to friends. Truth is, they didn’t fully understand what I was feeling or experiencing, but it did help to talk about how I felt. If you don’t have a good support circle to vent or share your feelings with- you can journal your feelings. Many people begin to blog or reach out over message boards and social networks. You can even talk to a counselor or social worker.
Talking can help.
It’s a good idea to talk with someone if your feelings get in the way of daily life or begin to overwhelm you to the point of dark thoughts, sleeplessness and uncontrollable anxiety. Maybe you have a family member, friend, priest, pastor, or spiritual leader you can talk to. Your doctor may also be able to help during this time.
Here are some other things that may help you:
- Know that we all make mistakes whenever we have a lot on our minds. No one is perfect.
- Cry or express your feelings. You don’t have to pretend to be cheerful. It’s okay to show that you are sad or upset.
I spoke on a panel discussion a few years ago and a survivor said something that I will never forget and I repeat often. Survivors get a schedule of events. They have appointments, scheduled treatments and medications and medical professionals dedicated to them. They are the ones with the cancer so they have a free pass to be angry, whine, be tired, complain and have bad days. Caregivers get the short end of the stick. They have to pick up the pieces, shoulder the burden of responsibilities, care for the patient, be an encouragement and cheerleader and do it all with a smile on their face. Who takes care of a caregiver when they are feeling overwhelmed, helpless or hopeless? I was in awe that this survivor had such insight into how some caregivers feel !
- Focus on things that are worth your time and energy. Let small things go for now. For example, don’t fold clothes if you are tired.
- Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.
- Spend time alone to think about your feelings.
- Spend time doing things that are not cancer related.
Asking for Help
Many people who were once caregivers say they did too much on their own. Some wish that they had asked for help sooner. Be honest about what you can do. Think about the tasks you can give to others. And let go of tasks that aren’t so important at this time. Asking for help also helps your loved one because it lessen your burdens and gives you time to do things that bring joy back into your lives.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, if you get help for yourself:
- You may stay healthier and have more energy.
- Your loved one may feel less guilty about your help.
- Other helpers may offer time and skills that you don’t have.
- Not only helps to relieve physical responsibilities but it may help relieve some financial burdens too.
One of the most important things I learned in hindsight- There are people in your life who care about you and want to help. People WANT to help. Allowing others to help you makes THEM feel useful and gives them a way to care for your loved one too.