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I don't know the first thing about caregiving...where do I start?

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Updated May 29, 2012

Question: I don't know the first thing about caregiving...where do I start?

Many articles focus on the person actually fighting the colon cancer, but surviving as the sole caregiver requires physical and emotional strength as well. Finding a balance between being supportive and managing your own emotions can be draining, but caring for a loved one during a time of illness can be very rewarding work.

Answer:

It's Okay to Cry

For some unknown reason, there's a stigma that the caregiver should be a rock of strength, but you're only human. Although you don't want to depress your loved one with constant water-works, it is okay to release some steam through cleansing tears. It's an outward reflection of how much you care for the person fighting cancer, not a weakness.

What You Provide

Aside from the love and support that you already show, taking on the role of caregiver comes with a host of responsibilities. The person fighting colon cancer needs time to heal, rest and get better. As a caregiver, you can provide physical support by:

  • Taking care of the home, cleaning and choresAssisting with bills and finances
  • Caring for pets and children
  • Shopping and providing nutrition
  • Accompanying your loved one to appointments
  • Picking up prescriptions

It sounds like a long list of responsibilities because it is. If the person fighting colon cancer is your spouse or partner, you are now taking on his or her responsibilities as well as your own. Although it may seem like the natural thing to do, it's not easy work.

Communicate

Talk to each other. Your loved one may not know what you are thinking – and he or she may need to hear that you will be there and stay through the treatment, sickness and rough road ahead. Be cognizant of your nonverbal communication, which can be just as telling as what you do or don't say. Communication also provides an outlet for your loved one to express his or her fears. Be an active listener – don't judge or second guess what he or she is saying – really listen.

Even if your loved one has an excellent prognosis, it's prudent to discuss his or her healthcare power of attorney (if you haven't already). The healthcare power of attorney is an advocate for the person fighting cancer – legally. This durable power only goes into effect should your loved one become mentally or physically compromised, where he or she is no longer able to make decisions for themselves. When that time comes, the healthcare power of attorney steps in to direct medical care in accordance with the patient's wishes.

As the caregiver, you can provide some crowd control for your loved one. Well-wishers, friends and family can be exhausting to someone fighting cancer. Consider helping your loved one set up an online cancer page, such as the ones at Caring Bridge to give people a place to learn updates and leave well-wishes without exhausting your patient.

Take Time for Yourself

In between accompanying your loved one to doctor's appointments, treatments and helping with recovery, you need to take time for yourself. Caregiver stress builds up slowly. You may not even recognize the fact that you are belittling your own needs in trying to care for your loved one. If you don't take care of yourself, there may be no one left to care for your loved one. Consider how care giving has impacted your:

  • Diet
  • Sleep schedule
  • Health
  • Energy levels
  • Grooming

If any one of these has changed, you may be headed towards caregiver stress (caregiver burn-out). Take a moment to reflect on the ways you can make a change and give yourself a break. You can ask friends or other family members to help with simple errands or take a nap when your loved one is resting. Talk to your doctor if you feel overwhelmed, hopeless or exhausted, which are three classic signs of caregiver stress.

Love Your Back

Care giving may require physically assisting your loved one if he or she has decreased mobility. You may have to help your spouse into the car for a doctor's appointment or assist mom in and out of the bathtub. Talk to your doctor if you have a pre-existing medical condition, back or neck problems, as you may need extra assistance in the home, such as an aide, to assist your loved one with mobility issues. Your doctor can also talk to you about durable medical equipment, such as a shower chair, that may help keep your loved one safe and your back stress to a minimum.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2006). American Cancer Society’s Complete Guide to Colorectal Cancer. Clifton Fields, NE: American Cancer Society.

American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Caring for the Patient with Cancer at Home. Accessed May 28, 2012.

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