Caring for the Caregiver: The Impact of Cancer on Families
Cancer is one illness that continues to induce fear and anxiety in any individual. Whether we look at the hypothetical situation of being afflicted by the illness or at a scenario in which a family member has it, it is a difficult situation to grapple with and adjust to. Different people respond differently and these reactions range from stoicism at the one end to a complete sense of disbelief and feeling of disintegration on the other extreme.
What Makes Cancer Difficult to Deal with
Illnesses, irrespective of which one it is, come with a significant proportion of an unknown aspect attached to them. This unpredictable factor is more so prominently associated with cancer. Not being able to understand how the illness can or would progress and the rate at which changes would occur, make it a rather taxing and straining experience. For any person who has a family member struggling with this illness, significant cognitive effort is expended in trying to combat this factor of unpredictability.
At the same time, an illness like cancer leaves family members frequently feeling powerless and out of control. We all move through our lives feeling largely in control of the situations we come across and the decisions and choices we make. But faced with a family member having cancer, we suddenly realise the complete lack of control we have in the situation. Whether it is the course of the illness or the treatment associated, the reactions of the affected person or those of others, nothing tends to be controllable.
Furthermore, it leaves the family feeling rather at a loss as to what the next steps need to be. Running from pillar to post, trying to determine what to do and to gain greater clarity about how things are going to be, needs which persist despite repeated interactions with doctors and specialists, leave one drained and exhausted.
Stress levels tend to be high and there is no denying that there is an impact on interpersonal relationships, whether it is within the personal or professional sphere. The fact is that the illness is not just about the illness. It tends to be about a lot more. It tests our faith and belief and challenges our inherent expectations that things would fall into place and that all problems are resolvable. It pushes us to face our biggest fears of losing a loved one and dealing with the knowledge that something terrible can transpire.
Taking Care of Yourself
In the midst of such a crisis, it become critical that as a primary support system to your family member who is struggling with the illness, you keep yourself strong and take care of yourself as well. It may feel like a selfish thought, however, if one is not strong enough then taking care of another is impossible. Some of the things you should keep in mind include the following,
Always seek information when in doubt. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions which can come unbidden to our mind as we struggle with dealing with the illness of the other. When in doubt do not hesitate to talk to the professionals taking care of your family member. Ask them for reading material as well that would help you understand the condition and its treatment and progression better.
Try and maintain a routine. An illness like cancer can be very disruptive to life and living it, even for the carer. It is imperative that you stick to your basic routines so that there is a sense of normalcy associated with your life.
Engage in pleasurable activities. It may be difficult, but it is not impossible to try and engage with activities and things which are pleasurable. These should be done not just with the individual you are trying to take care of but also on your own.
Talk about what you are thinking and feeling. A carer also needs care and support. It is not possible for you to try and cope with the emotions and experiences of the other as well as your own self alone. It is essential that you try and create a support system of your own so that you can share and discuss your own experiences.
Cherish each moment and live in the present. As you grapple with the unpredictability of life, it is essential that you try and keep yourself in the present and take each day as it comes. This would also mean that even when you get flooded with thoughts about the future make a hearty attempt to steer away from them by using distractions and positive self-talk.
Build a narrative story with your family member. Another way of taking care of yourself also is to create a narrative of your experiences and building a story with your family member of times that have gone by and reminiscing about the good moments of the past. Thinking of things which have been great would help you take care of your moods.
Talk to an expert. If you are struggling too much do not hesitate to talk to an expert counsellor or psychologist. Taking care of yourself is very important and seeking professional help would go a long way in helping you cope with the transitions your life would be going through.
As a carer, we frequently forget our own selves. However, it is probably one of the most critical pieces in taking care of another – taking care of your self.