You have cancer. (June 2016)
If you or a family member have not heard this phrase, consider yourself lucky.
If you haven’t been exposed to it, it can be a hard thing to comprehend. It strikes mostly without warning, it affects the very young to the very old, rich or poor, famous or anonymous.
No matter what type of cancer, or the stage that it is diagnosed, it can take a huge toll on a family. There are emotional and physical effects of the diagnosis and treatment but also financial considerations.
Emotionally, you are concerned about yourself, but also your family and friends. Some people fight it head on with a “take no prisoners” attitude, whilst others withdraw, not wanting to be a burden on others. If you have children, you wonder how much you need to tell them for fear that it will cause them distress, but you want them to understand why their lives have changed so drastically. No one wants to have to tell their children that their Mom or Dad may not survive. If you are a parent of a child with cancer, it is so hard to explain to them why they have to endure the treatments when they are too young to comprehend what is happening to them.
The stress can be so overwhelming.
Physically, there may be a lot of treatment options, surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.
The side effects of these treatments can be major or minor depending on the chemotherapy drugs used, the number of radiation treatments or the extent of any surgery required.
The most common side effect for all treatments is fatigue and it can sometimes be debilitating. Most cancer patients are therefore unable to work through treatment and while some have disability insurance to help, others may not have that option. On top of that caregivers may have to also take time off work, or reduce their hours in order to stay home to care for their loved one. This adds a financial burden and additional stress on the family. It’s hard enough dealing with the diagnosis and treatments without worrying if the bills will get paid.
We are fortunate to live in a country that provides universal health care, but not all the expenses of treatment are covered. Radiation treatments are done daily in most cases with a few days off here and there and the parking fees at the hospital can add up very quickly. If a patient lives in a small town and they are referred to a different city for treatment, the treatment costs are covered but the travel and accommodation expenses may not be. In the case of oral cancer, there can be extensive damage to the teeth from treatment, not everyone is insured and the insurance is usually very limited.
If you are lucky that your treatment is successful and you are given a clean bill of health, it doesn’t end there. There can be long term physical and emotional effects from treatment, it can sometimes take months or even years to get back to what a person may consider ‘normal’. You are always aware that someday the cancer may return. Sometimes life is never the same again.
Caring for the Caregiver (May 2016)
Being a caregiver is a demanding responsibility – a privileged one, but demanding none-the-less. It can be physically taxing and emotionally draining.
What can caregivers do to be there for the person who needs them?
Most importantly, take care of yourself. Easily said; however, you cannot take care of someone else if you fail to care for yourself.
- find a trusted friend to give you a break; even half an hour gives you a chance to catch your breath
- read to the person you are caring for. It takes the focus off both of you to a place outside the demanding situation.
- talk to a friend, counsellor, spiritual care worker, anyone who will help rebuild your strength.
- surround yourself with strong, positive people.
- don’t hesitate to ask for help; this is a big job. Take help when it is offered.
- if possible, take the person outside. Fresh air and sunshine are wonderful rejuvenators.
- keep healthy fluids and small snacks handy for yourself as well as the person you are caring for.
- get adequate sleep. This can be a real challenge. You may need to employ respite care.
- talk about things the person did when they were healthy. Look through old photos.
- keep a journal. This is often a treasure long after the person has left.
Forgive yourself if things don’t turn out the way you hoped. You did your best. No one can do any better. Many caregivers look back and say that this most difficult time is when the closest bonds and fondest memories were made.
Caregiver and Volunteer