Cancer Caregiver: Love Thyself!

It would be wrong to compare being the primary caregiver for a cancer patient to just about any other illness, but the inspiration for today’s blog comes from our own experience with just that: taking care of a loved one during treatment and through recovery. It is not easy, to say the very least.

Recently, three members of our team at Catch it in Time have been in the position of being caregivers to their spouse or parent and it was challenging for each of us. We talked about how tough that was (and still is for one of us) and how monumentally tougher it could have been or might be in the future.

In one case, it was a spouse who suffered a nasty fall in the winter and had to have reconstructive surgery on her upper arm. The injury was painful. The treatment was painful. The surgery went well, and thankfully, she is on the mend and back to work (and driving herself around), but it was disruptive for her, for her immediate family, and for everyone’s work.

In the other case, a spouse in “career transition” after a corporate restructuring has opted to have both shoulder surgery for an injured rotator cuff, AND partial knee replacement in June, so that he will be “as good as new” for the prospects that lie ahead. Selfishly, perhaps, the spouse is nervous not only about her husband taking on another surgery, but also about the real impact of having him out of commission for several weeks as he recuperates. Will he be able to manage the 28 stairs in their house? If not, where will he sleep, on the dining room table? (No, not really, but that was on her mind!) Will he be safe to drive? Can he make it on the family summer trip already planned and paid for? What about golfing and fishing, his two favorite past times? When will he be able to do those again? (It will be a long summer if the answer is 2017!)

Again, none of this rises to the level of living with a cancer diagnosis and surviving treatment, but it is our nearest current first-hand experience. Of course, we have all lost family members –young and old – to cancer and we have seen what those treatments have looked like. We do what we do at Catch it in Time in their memory. Just recently, we have suffered the loss of a father, the diagnosis of a brother-in-law in his 30s, and too many friends. We have seen what cancer is like to live with. We have wept and we have laughed. And many of our acquaintances who have battled cancer are still survivors. But the journey is rough for all and cannot be understated.

So, if you are a cancer caregiver, take heart. You are not alone. There are myriad resources available. We were going to list some coping ideas here, but really, just “Google it”. If you look up “cancer caregiver tips” you will find more information than you will know how to use. (We are also putting together some new boards on Pinterest, which we hope to release this fall.)

In the meantime, we are working behind the scenes on a project we cannot divulge yet, but one which we believe will be a game-changer for care givers if we can find the right financial support and partners to bring it to life. We are currently working with a special team at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to create a resource that will be of great help. Stay tuned. We are excited about this one!

As we do that, however, cancer caregiver Super Hero, please be kind to yourself. Please find a network of support that can help you in any way you need it. Find a neighbor kid who is too young for a “real job” and get them to run errands or help with chores. (Trust us, 13 year olds are great cheap labor and they NEED to work!)

Make time for your own friends and for something AWAY from the loved one as much as you can. You don’t have to go on vacation, but you can schedule meaningful breaks. Grab a coffee. Go back to book club. Play a round of golf or go shopping with a friend. Do the little things that you can do as often as you can fit them in to KEEP YOUR PERSONAL BATTERY CHARGED! You are needed, but you need to do things for yourself.

Consider journaling or blogging if you think it would help.  It does not matter if you ever have an audience. Just get your feelings on paper or on a screen – out of your head and heart. Trust us. You will feel better if you do. Nobody has to see what you have written, but writing can be cathartic.

Most of all, be gentle on yourself. You are only one person. You are human. Cancer sucks. But many people do survive and people do move on – one way or another – at some point. Let yourself be yourself and feel what you feel. Know that you will get through this and know that you are not alone.