When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33, “cancer” was barely in my vocabulary – I didn’t know the first thing about this world. Now, 8 years later, I am armed with knoweldge from my own experience and the experiences of the IHadCancer.com community. I’ve learned that the role of the caregiver is one of the most important pieces in this cancer puzzle but it can be a really difficult relationship for both sides to navigate.
Here are the five things that I, as a survivor, would like to pass down to caregivers on behalf of fighters and survivors everywhere.
1. It can be really difficult to ask for help
When someone knows that they need help but they don’t want to admit it, we’re put in a really uncomfortable and vulnerable spot. Half of the time we may not even know exactly what type of help we need, so we’ll respond with “I don’t need anything!” when it’s not exactly true.
Instead of asking a fighter what they need, offer the best way that you know how to help. If they have a pet, offer to take them for a walk. If you notice the lawn needs cutting, offer to mow it. If you watched a really good movie recently, just drop it off with a note. If you spotted a chemo appointment written in on the calendar, offer to give a lift or to be their chemo buddy. Providing solutions instead of asking what’s needed makes it easier to accept the help.
2. Sometimes the little things help the most
Not every fighter is going to need you to help them with all the little thing. They may already have a large team of people chipping in, or they may be well enough that they can still handle a lot of it themselves.
For those individuals, the small things are still incredibly important. In my case, I was able to work through treatment and was fortunate enough to feel relatively well during my chemo sessions. I didn’t need someone to take over any of my daily tasks, but what I did need was the emotional help that came in the form of small things: going above and beyond to make me laugh, sharing a great story, giving me massive hugs, and small reminders that they’re there for me.
3. It’s okay to talk about something other than cancer
As soon as someone is diagnosed with cancer, it is easy for that person to start to feel as though all they are is a cancer diagnosis. Any career or defining characteristics before cancer seem to take a back seat, even though they were likely living a very full life before cancer shoved its way into the picture.
Don’t be afraid to talk about things other than cancer. Actually, it made me feel better and more “normal” to talk about the things I would talk about previously like movies, work, gossip. You can tell your loved one about the mundane parts of life the way that you used to – it will help him or her forget about this cancer thing, even if only for a moment.
4. Don’t forget about yourself
Often times, caregivers become worn down as they constantly adjust their lives to better fit the needs of the fighter. But in many cases, that can do more harm for the patient than good. On top of worrying about our own health, we also have to worry about the mental and physical health of those who are caring for us.
Please, go home, get some sleep and take care of yourself before you take care of us. If you’re not well you won’t be able to help us.
5. We may need you more after treatment ends
Just because we may get the “all clear” and it may appear as though life goes back to normal, that’s not always the case. Often times, life after cancer can be more difficult than life with cancer. All of the regimented appointments stop and we are no longer focused on getting the cancer out of us, we are focused on the emotional damage that it left in its wake.
Your loved one may be anxious about follow up exams. They might totally lose their train of thought unexpectedly. They will probably be really, really tired when they don’t want to admit it. This can be what the new normal looks like, and we need you to acknowledge that life will not be the same as it was before cancer.
As terrible as it is, cancer is an opportunity to learn about each other all over again. So to caregivers everywhere who stick it out through it all: thank you for everything you do.
What other advice would you give to your caregivers, friends and family? Tell us in the comments below!