Cancer does not only affect the patients, but also their caregivers. You may experience new changes in your life when your loved one is diagnosed with cancer. The initial phase of this change is challenging for everyone.
At this time, everyone in the family may yet to have coped with receiving the news of a cancer diagnosis. It affects and impacts each individual in the family differently. Feelings of disbelief, frustration and sadness are part of the process in moving towards accepting the reality that you and your family now have to start living with cancer.
Despite the many challenges that may be standing in your way, being a caregiver for your loved one with cancer can bring purpose and fulfillment. Below is an informative guide to empower you in delivering your role as an effective caregiver.
Coping Within the Family
Each family has its own culture and values. This means that every family will also have its own sets of priorities and may activate different coping mechanisms in times of difficulty, based on their unique beliefs.
As caregivers, it is wise to take the time to manage your own feelings after discovering the condition of your loved one. As much as you may feel compelled to give support to the family member with cancer, do not shy away from asking for and receiving help if you feel vulnerable in this new situation. It is normal to feel the need to be supported especially in challenging times. By opening yourself to giving and receiving the much needed support, you will strengthen the bonds between you and your family members and develop resilience as you gain new insights on managing cancer as a family.
This is possible when every family member accepts that there will be role adjustments involved. The family will need to manage their expectations of each other, communicate effectively and ensure self-care.
The expectations you possess are influenced by your individual values, your collective family values and your life priorities. In supporting your loved one who is undergoing cancer treatment, you may find yourself having to realign your values and readjust your priorities. This process may be challenging for you. Sometimes, adult children may find themselves having to take a sabbatical from work or school to care for an ill parent. A spouse may have to cease work to be present for their partner’s doctor appointments. A father may have to work from home to care for his children when a mother is unwell. These are not easy situations to be in.
It is imperative for every family member to acknowledge their expectations of each other and learn to find a middle ground. You can set an example by first seeking to understand your limitations and offering realistic solutions to making things work.
During cancer treatment, emergencies may arise and your original plans may get thrown off tangent. Do be gentle with yourself and your loved ones, exercise flexibility and offer words of encouragement and gratitude.
Going through this shift can be tough on everyone especially when cancer hits the family for the first time. You may wish to speak to a counsellor to guide you along this period of adjustment better.
The Importance of Communication
A major part of our everyday lives involves communication. Miscommunication tends to happen when there is a mismatch of expectations and assumptions.
Communicating honestly and tactfully while showing empathy, helps you and your loved ones feel safe, understood and connected with each other.
When communicating, it is also important to listen actively to what is being spoken.
Do not simply extract the spoken content but seek to process the speaker’s tone, pace and emotions expressed. When in doubt, do seek clarifications and try paraphrasing what you have heard to ensure that there are no misinterpretations on what was shared.
Listening actively will help you to understand the needs of your loved ones better.
You can also foster better communication by cultivating the goodwill within the family. Commit yourself to organising an activity that all members can enjoy and participate in. This can be taking after-dinner strolls or baking cookies together.
The Importance of Self-Care
Caring for your loved one with cancer can be overwhelming at times. By understanding your own strengths and limitations, you will be able to identify when you need to take some time-off for yourself.
Do set aside time to regulate your emotions and recharge your energy levels. Activities such as spa massages, deep- breathing and relaxation, and exercising, releases endorphins into your system that keeps your heart fit, your mind clear and your spirits positive. A healthy body and mind will help sustain you through the challenges of providing quality and consistent care to your loved one battling cancer.
If possible, do rotate care-giving duties amongst various family members. This will help the cancer warrior bond with the whole family and feel well-loved and supported. It takes effort to maintain a healthy and balanced family dynamic during these times of upheaval, but reaching out and receiving practical assistance can make a difference to your well-being.
Connecting with other caregivers is a part of self-care. You can build a social support network where care-giving tips and words of encouragement can be exchanged. If you have the time, do consider participating in workshops to learn new care-giving skills or attend psycho-educational programs on emotional coping and resilience.
In CanHOPE, there are various support groups available, ranging from education on coping skills to social activities that can benefit both patients and caregivers.