Being a good caregiver means not only taking care of your loved one, but taking care of yourself. Balancing these two needs requires flexibility, insight, and patience. Learn how to ensure you’re providing the best care possible while not neglecting yourself.
What to Expect
The nature of your caregiving responsibilities depends on how far advanced your loved one’s cancer is, what type of mesothelioma he or she has, how many others are helping you, and several other factors.
If you’re loved one has pleural mesothelioma, the most common type, he or she will likely experience respiratory problems, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
As the cancer advances, your loved one may also have:
- Difficulty breathing
- A loss of appetite
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abdominal pain (if the cancer has spread to that area)
You may be caring for your loved one as he or she recovers from surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. Side effects of these traditional treatments include nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea, hair loss, skin changes, and tiredness.
Being aware of these symptoms and procedures can help you prepare for your role as a caregiver.
Being a Good Caregiver
Being a good caregiver requires the ability to let go of being perfect. Mistakes are inevitable, so go easy on yourself when you make them.
Beyond that, there are several actions you can take to make sure your loved one is getting the care he or she needs:
Listen to your loved one. Good communication skills are an important part of caretaking. Do you assume that you know what your loved one wants, or do you ask and patiently listen? If you find yourself constantly speaking for your loved one, stop. It’s easy to become so focused on getting things done that you tune out the noise, but remember that your loved one still needs to communicate and feel connected.
Keep a schedule. A routine can help you and your loved one establish a rhythm. It can also keep you on track for administering medication, keeping appointments, and adhering to any special restrictions. It may also give you both something to look forward to, like watching a movie or taking a car ride on a nice day.
Try to laugh together. It will make your caregiving responsibilities easier. Whether it’s watching a comedy on TV or recalling funny stories from your past, laughter is an easy way to relieve stress for both of you.
Set boundaries. Doing everything for the patient is rarely a good idea for either of you. Unless your loved one is completely unable to help, have him or her do as much as possible. Encourage your loved one to talk about things other than the illness. You can do this while still being compassionate and helpful.
Caregivers often make their patients their top priority. This can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. In fact, studies suggest that between 40 to 70 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed.
Caregivers’ physical health can be affected, too. A 2012 AARP study reports that 17 percent of caregivers feel that that caregiving has caused their health to decline. Full-time workers younger than 45 report the lowest emotional and physical health compared to non-caregivers.
The following tips can help you stay more balanced and calm:
Take time off when you can. When you feel overwhelmed, spending even just a few hours away from the house can improve your mood. Get a haircut, take a walk, or visit a friend—anything that is just for you. Contact your health insurance and ask if they provide coverage for respite care so you can take a break.
Eat well. It’s easy to neglect good nutrition when you’re busy and stressed. Processed meals and fast food are, after all, very convenient. But a good diet can improve the way you feel and give you the energy required to get through the day. Focus on fresh food with a “rainbow” of colors. Stay away from high-fat meals, which raise your stress hormones, and avoid sugar and caffeine, which leave you drained once the high wears off.
Exercise. Traditionally seen as a weight management tool, exercise is an important way to relieve stress. But don’t think you need to run five miles before breakfast. Any form of exercise, from tennis to gardening, can be a stress reliever. When you’re active, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Regular exercise can improve sleep, increase self-confidence, and lower signs of depression and anxiety. Consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
Ask for help. Often, friends and family say, “Let me know how I can help.” But it’s hard for caregivers to accept that offer, even when everyday tasks become too much to handle. One way to get around this is to make the type of assistance very specific. Say, “I’d like to take you up on your offer. I could use some help walking the dog, picking up groceries, or mowing the lawn. If you could take care of one of those tasks, it would mean a lot.” Most people are happy to lend a hand, because it makes them feel useful.