If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer, you’re both probably experiencing a wide range of feelings and emotions, which may include fear, anger, sadness, confusion, uncertainty and helplessness. The truth is, cancer affects much more than a person’s body – it can impact his or her home life, relationships and career as well. While there is no well-defined script for the role of caregiver, you should be aware that there are strategies and resources available to help you as you take on the new challenges that come with this uncharted territory.
As reality sets in and your lives begin to change, you might focus initially on the details of getting through each day. Remember, though, that tasks like preparing meals, helping children with homework, shopping, caring for pets and completing household chores can be delegated. Consider that you may have family members and friends who are more than willing to help out, but are hesitating simply because they are unsure of what to do. If someone asks how they can help, be specific about what you need. And, if no one asks, don’t be afraid to reach out. By allowing others in, you will be able to help your partner focus more fully on getting well.
When dealing with the ongoings of everyday life, it’s important not to lose sight of a more pressing need – that is, providing emotional support for your partner. Of course, you want to be there for your loved one, but like your well-meaning family members and friends, you may not know exactly what to do. While every person is unique and every situation is different, there are some basic guidelines for effective caregiving, which include:
- Being a good communicator – Simply listening, as opposed to trying to “fix” whatever is wrong (a futile task), is one of the most important things you can do. Additionally, don’t be afraid to express your own feelings; if you keep them bottled up, your partner may feel as if you’re shutting him or her out, which can be hurtful. By sharing your hopes and fears, you can provide your loved one with a sense of reassurance, and possibly even relief, that you’re both in this together.
- Serving as an extra set of eyes and ears – Accompany your partner to his or her medical appointments, ask questions, take notes and follow up later by performing any necessary research. The amount of information presented can sometimes seem overwhelming, and your loved one will already have a lot on his or her mind, which may make it difficult to concentrate. Also, you can serve as your partner’s spokesperson if he or she doesn’t feel up to taking phone calls or visitors.
- Taking care of yourself – Your partner is dealing with cancer, but you have needs as well. In order to be the best possible caregiver, it’s essential for you to take care of yourself, too. Don’t skip meals, get plenty of rest and try to engage in some form of physical activity every day. Also, it’s important to take periodic breaks to simply breathe and find peace. This can help you maintain the physical and emotional energy you need to cope with the reality of your partner’s illness.
- Taking breaks from cancer – While fulfilling the role of caregiver for your partner, don’t forget the importance of being a couple. Your loved one can benefit from the reassurance that the relationship you had prior to his or her diagnosis is still there. As much as possible, try to maintain your routine of togetherness by taking occasional breaks from your medical concerns. This could simply mean having dinner or enjoying a movie, either out or at home. You might include others as well.
Some relationships actually become stronger during cancer treatment. Toward that end, it’s essential to keep in mind that different people express themselves in different ways. For instance, some people prefer to be highly verbal, while others are more introspective. By understanding and respecting your partner’s personality and preferences, you can avoid the tension of unrealistically expecting him or her to react in the same way you would.
If you have a loved one who is dealing with cancer and you need help, you should know that Moffitt Cancer Center offers a variety of supportive care services to patients and their families. To learn more, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. No referrals are required.