Monthly Archives: June 2012

CARING FOR SOMEONE WITH CANCER

You will probably suffer from both physical and emotional exhaustion before too long if you are the main carer for someone with cancer. The first thing you must do is ask for help.

Life goes on even while you are caring for the sick person.  Kids still have to do their homework, clothes still need to be washed and ironed, bills need to be paid, gardens need tending, bathrooms need cleaning and shopping and cooking have to be taken care of.

Other family members and friends are usually only too willing to do what they can, but sometimes they don’t know what they can do, so make a list of things that you know would help you.  They will be grateful for your suggestions.  Some things on this list might be:

  • baby-sitting
  • cooking (and freezing) meals
  • providing transport for medical appointments
  • taking children to weekend sport
  • offering to sit with the patient while you do other things
  • mowing the lawns and/or weeding garden beds

Make sure some of those other things include ‘time out’ for you, for example:

  • go to a movie or a concert
  • meet a friend for coffee or lunch
  • go for a walk in the park

It serves no purpose if you fall in a heap. 

You must take care of yourself if you are going to be able to care for anyone else.

Now is the time to call in all favours.

You need to be guided by what the cancer patient wants and always try to respond openly to conversations that they initiate. Never, ever say to someone who tries to tell you that they are afraid of dying that they ‘mustn’t talk like that’.

Talking about fears doesn’t make them happen and it’s much healthier to get those feelings out into the open.  And if the cancer is terminal, it’s really cruel not to let people talk about what it means to them to be coming to the end of their life.  If necessary arrange for someone (minister, trusted friend, professional counsellor, etc.) to facilitate a meeting so that you can talk about these big, scary things without it feeling like it’s going to end in disaster.

You really need to de-brief your fears, exhaustion, frustration and so on – all those emotions that are raging through you, that you can’t and don’t want to share with the person you’re caring for.

Attending a support groups of other cancer carers can help take away feelings of isolation; “nobody else understands what it’s like for me”. It is liberating to hear that others sometimes feel  overwhelmed, despairing, terrified and yes, even furious with the person who has cancer.  No one there will judge you (it’s easy to guess that you’re doing a pretty good job of that yourself!) and it helps to know that all those feelings are a normal reaction to an incredibly stressful situation. I believe it is vital for carers to have somewhere to debrief what their life is like, away from the person they are caring for, so that they can be completely honest about what is going on for them without having to worry about hurting anyone else.

In Sydney, Life Force Cancer Foundation runs weekly support groups for carers in the Inner West and for patients & survivors in the Eastern Suburbs and Inner West.  http://lifeforce.org.au/support-groups/

I also recommend that you talk to hospital social workers to find out what other assistance is available.  Because the system is so stretched, help usually isn’t offered unless you ask for it.  Be the squeaky wheel and insist on seeing the relevant social worker.

This is always going to be an extremely challenging time but if you look after yourself as much as possible, it doesn’t have to be totally overwhelming.

(c) Jane Gillespie 2017