There is an excessive amount of coping advice on how a patient deals with a cancer diagnosis, but it is hard to find any sort of counsel for you the caregiver and your family to help you mentally and emotionally handle when your loved one is suffering.
It is important to remember that every person’s situation is incomparable to another’s. There are several ways to give care so there is no one way that works best.
With that said, the hard reality is that a cancer diagnosis does not just affect your loved one. You are the person in the closest proximity to your spouse, you are often faced with the most responsibility and the hardest challenges.
This life-changing event will create a sense of dependency that shifts the dynamics of your family and will require you (the caregiver) to acquire a role of responsibility and care that may be initially out of your depth.
No matter how overwhelmed you may feel, there is hope for being able to manage this immense challenge, with strength and peace.
Firstly, an acknowledgment of the situation is paramount to moving forward. Everyone involved is going to go through stages of grieving, even if the result of the diagnosis is not terminal. A mental health practitioner can help you greatly with understanding these stages and how to transition with them.
Think of it as a race that has just started. It is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and no one has prepared! It is necessary to know that giving care in this challenging time is not easy, especially if you haven’t been in training for it for any period of time.
You will need to conserve your energy and use it wisely. As hard as it may be, take as much help as you can and reach out to family and friends when you need them, and trust the medical professionals around you to help you through and make sure to ask them whatever questions you have that pop up.
The most natural response you might be experiencing is to put your own needs and feelings aside and try to focus on your loved one. This focus might work for the short-term but it is not sustainable for the long-term.
Consider this statement: You can’t use your phone if you don’t charge it.
Basically, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others!
What Is Undeniably Going On For You
Understand that it is absolutely normal to feel a whole range of emotions during this time; both negative and positive. Recognizing that your feelings exist and working through them will help you to cope and enable you to then provide your loved one with better care.
A feeling you might experience is anger (at yourself, others, or your loved one). Anger is often a number of feelings at once, such as: fear, anxiety, embarrassment, and even resentment for what you are going through.
It is important to not take this anger out on everyone else but try to channel it in a way that allows you to acknowledge the underlying feelings and work through them.
Other feelings experienced by caregivers are: guilt, sadness, despair, and isolation or loneliness. Once again, these are all very normal feelings, and they are ok to feel.
Create an environment where you and your loved one can talk about these things. Open communication about the situation will create a greater sense of connection between both of you, and even your family, and will alleviate any tension before it becomes something bigger than it needs to be.
Consider joining a support group with other caregivers. This will help normalize the situation and provide a space where common topics of conversation can happen that you won’t necessarily get from others.
Focus your energy on what you can actually do and try not to take on more than what is humanly possible. Many caregivers believe that they need to be the sole person that cares for their loved one, especially when it is a spouse or life partner.
Delegate tasks, even to children. Help the whole family and your friends feel important enough by asking them to do simple tasks for you, such as: grocery shopping, making a phone call, mowing your lawn, babysitting, and so on. Think about what is not essential for you to do and give those tasks to others.
Prioritize your time. Measure how much time your tasks and activities take and work out how important each thing is. Let yourself feel. It’s ok to cry and laugh and get angry. Allow yourself to let your emotions out without it being destructive.
This is really important and a much healthier alternative to bottling everything up and it “leaking” out in ways that can hurt others and yourself.
Be grateful for the little things. Gratitude promotes optimism and will help you acquire a new outlook on life. Start with something like being thankful for three things every morning.
Your perspective and care for yourself during this challenging time are vital too, not only surviving it, but thriving in it. You do not have to be an empty shell that goes through the motions of life and has to numb themselves because it is too hard.
You can find purpose in this experience and enjoy elements of life in a new and different way, you just need to believe that and look after yourself, and you are going to be the best caregiver you can be to your loved one in need.