For cancer patients, receiving a diagnosis is often a time of fear, stress and trauma. The fear of the unknown, treatment processes and the disruption to life’s routines can be overwhelming. The experience is life altering, not only for the patient but also for family and close friends. For certain, life will never be the same for all involved.
While the initial focus and turmoil centers around the patient, the emotional impact on those who step up to be caregivers are too often overlooked. The dedication of time and resources to drive the patient to their frequent treatments, look in on them to monitor the therapies’ progress and extend their understanding and emotional support can be significant. Truly, no one fights cancer alone.
Being a caregiver can be very challenging. Many caregivers are close family and friends who are impacted equally by the diagnosis. The experience often creates a new role and unprecedented change for friend and family relationships. Feelings of confusion and stress accompany the changes in daily routines for all involved. Once relatively equal give and take relationships are now tipped more toward the cancer patient. Over an extended period of time this unbalanced set of emotional and physical needs can leave a caregiver feeling depressed and overwhelmed.
Educating yourself about the patient’s disease and the therapies and treatments they will be experiencing can help a caregiver cope with the challenges that lie ahead. “I remember it was important for me to understand the kind of breast cancer my wife (Viola) had,” says Nathan Jones. “It was triple-negative, so it was very aggressive. Because I had learned everything I could about Viola’s cancer, I understood that even though she wasn’t sick in bed or even in pain, her cancer was going to grow fast and we needed to be proactive.” Knowing and understanding is nearly always better and less stressful.
Many caregivers admit, usually in hindsight, that they took on too much. Accepting help from others and sharing feelings of being over taxed is never easy, but having someone assist with routine chores like cooking, cleaning, shopping and yardwork can relieve the pressure on a caregiver’s time, energy and feelings of inadequacy. Focusing on your own needs, hopes, and desires can give you the strength to meet new challenges and understand conflicting feelings.
Support groups dedicated to caring for the caregiver are widely available in small group settings or online. Studies show that talking with others about what you’re dealing with is very important. It’s especially helpful when you feel overwhelmed or want to say things that you can’t say to your loved one with cancer.
Keeping a journal has been shown to help relieve negative feelings and stress. Share your journey with others who show interest. Ken Owenson, caregiver and husband to a breast cancer patient says, “We find a lot of strength from sitting down with patients and giving them a place to vent some of their anxiety, and it also gives us a chance to clear our minds, too. It’s not good to internalize it because that just makes it worse.”