When a loved one falls ill, you want to take care of them. This is challenging when you are dealing with the flu, but it can feel like an impossible task if your loved one has cancer. I know firsthand how hard it is to be the one who has to have all the answers, stay strong, and remain hopeful. My daughter was only three months old when my wife was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and I became the primary caregiver for her and our infant daughter overnight.
There was no opportunity to prepare myself for being a caregiver. I had to sink or swim, and failing simply was not an option for me. My wife needed me, and our daughter needed both of us. I learned on the fly, and thankfully, after months of difficult treatment for mesothelioma, she was pronounced cancer free. I am now happy to share how I learned to survive being a caregiver.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are going to say things like, “If there’s anything I can do,” or “Just call me if you need me.” Remember that these people actually mean it! They are willing to help you, but often they don’t know how. Be proactive and ask them for help by bringing over meals, watching the children, or picking up some groceries. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of humility and strength.
- Get organized with available tools. There will be countless doctor appointments, plus you will have other tasks to handle. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and confused when you are trying to keep up with all of it in your head. Use the calendar feature on your phone to track appointments, and invest in a binder or notebook for the paperwork, bills, and other written information you may collect.
- Set your priorities early on. You will constantly have a to-do list that seems overwhelming, and it probably won’t be possible to get it all done. Things that directly impact the health of your loved one take priority, and everything else should be moved down on the list. You can also take the items that are low on the list and ask for help with them. This will free up your time to focus on more important things.
- It’s okay to take some time for you. You may feel guilty stopping to read a book or take a walk, but you don’t want to burn yourself out. You need to stay positive for your loved one, and that’s going to be hard to do if you aren’t taking care of yourself. This will help you keep the stress levels down and provide the highest quality of care for your loved one.
- Remember that knowledge is power. When you are informed, you will feel better able to handle being a caregiver. Educate yourself about the condition your loved one is living with, including what to expect in the future. Talk with other people who have gone through this, and sign up for caregiver support groups if they are available. There are many online resources for caregiving, and communities that can be helpful, and chances are there are many dedicated to the disease your loved one is suffering from. The more you learn, the more prepared you will be for what the future may hold.
I have met with many other caregivers as an advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, and found that caregivers for any sort of illness often face many of the same challenges. I know how difficult this time is, and I also know how important it is to hold on to hope and stay focused on the task. I hope that these tips will help you as you provide care for your loved one.