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The Caregiver’s Role
Cancer is a family disease that does not just affect the patient but the entire family. Many caregivers struggle with having to balance their own lives in conjunction with the new-found responsibilities of caring for their loved one.
All throughout treatment, you as the caregiver or the “co-survivor” may have assisted with additional household responsibilities, transportation, attended doctor’s appointments, and/or interacted with the insurance company. Sometimes these new roles may have made you feel like you have become a traffic cop, taxi driver, insurance negotiator, therapist, lawyer, nurse, and/or punching bag.
Many patients and their caregivers look forward to the end of treatment as a celebration and a turning point for when life may return back to normal. The reality is that most patients take awhile to return back to “normal” and/or have to work towards discovering a “new normal”. Now that treatment has ended, it is not uncommon for the caregiver to become impatient or frustrated that life does not immediately return to how it was before cancer came into your life.
Below are some helpful tips for caregivers to help their loved ones (and themselves) when treatment ends:
- Try to be patient and remain flexible. Recovery and healing takes time. This goes way beyond physical healing. Patients often need time to work through many emotions such as fear, sadness, anger, and/or guilt that can created from the cancer experience.
- Extra help should not end when treatment ends. Try to continue to help your loved one for a little while longer if you can. But also practice asking other family or friends to help lighten the load as a way to show they care. As the co-survivor, you can help others show support. By asking for a meal to be brought over on a specific day or finding someone else to drive the carpool, you can assist in making sure everyone’s needs are met during this transition period. Often, family and friends want to help but aren’t sure how.
- Attend one or more follow-up visits. It is not only helpful for your loved one to continue to feel supported but it can always be helpful to have another person in the room to hear what the follow-up treatment plan will be.
- Remember to be an active listener. Many patients find the time just following treatment to be really scary. It is not your job to “fix” the patient or remove her fears. Sometimes just listening and reassuring your loved one can be what is most helpful.
- Remember you are on the same team. With so many fears and emotions following treatment, some patients and caregivers have a hard time connecting. The role of cancer survivor is new to the majority of patients. Likewise, most caregivers have never had to care for a loved one battling breast cancer before. No one expects either of you to be an expert at this new role. Mistakes such as saying or doing the wrong thing will happen. Try to be patient with yourself and with your loved one during this vulnerable time.
- Don’t forget to care for yourself. You still have needs so to prevent burnout, try to take some time for yourself.
- Watch for signs where outside help may be needed. It is very common for the period just following treatment to spark high amounts of anxiety and depression for the cancer survivor. If these symptoms persist for several weeks or affect your loved ones’ everyday life, a gentle conversation with your loved one’s primary care physician may be helpful. Some patients may also benefit from interacting with a mental health professional, including counselors.
- Celebrate. Hopefully together you and your loved one can celebrate how far you both have come even during some very difficult times.