Tuesday 16 April 2013

Caregiver Stress

What if you suddenly found yourself in the role of caregiver to a loved one with cancer?  Do you know what you would do?

We are learning through our interviews with cancer patients that most go through a process.  Whether they felt 'intuitively' they had something wrong with them or their diagnosis comes as a shock, they suffer an initial disbelief that they themselves, have cancer. 
Through the process of medical tests, doctor visits, treatments, experiencing the physical side effects of treatment, surgery, radiation or whatever their particular case entails, they eventually reach a point of acceptance.  They accept they have cancer or have had cancer.  If circumstances are such that the cancer will take the patients life, they come to accept that too, most often with peace.

Our interviews with caregivers are teaching us that their experience of cancer is an entirely different one than that of the patient. 

They feel compelled to try and do something about the diagnosis. 
Many run to the internet, seek out friends who have had experience with cancer to learn what they can over and above what a doctor has told them, to see if they can find a way, a loophole if you will, wherein will lie the 'cure'.  
They feel if they can get their loved one in for a second opinion they will learn that there is in fact, no cancer.  A mistake has been made.

They feel afraid to leave their loved one alone - afraid that in their absence 'the worst' will occur but if they are around, eagle eyed and watchful, then things will hang in the balance at 'okay'.
They feel compelled to ask again and again, 'How do you feel?', 'Are you okay?'.  They hold their breath while waiting for the answer, which they can only hope will be, 'I'm fine.'  They never believe the answer 'I'm fine', though.  The person has cancer, they cannot be fine.  They are only saying they are fine because they don't want me to worry.  So they worry more, wondering what is not fine about how the patient is REALLY feeling.

The stress is astronomic.  The level of responsibility they feel  is enormous.  Exhaustion sets in for which there is no relief.

This behaviour of the caregiver is very difficult for the cancer patient to understand.  Perhaps it is because when ones body is seriously ill, the mind undergoes a process which takes them on a long journey from disbelief, to acceptance, to peace, but for a caregiver, they are often stuck in denial or disbelief or overwhelmed with a feeling that they must take action even though they are not sure what it is.  Caregivers rarely seem to move to acceptance and if they do, peace doesn't seem to be attached.

If you know someone who is a caregiver to a cancer patient.  Give them a hug today.  They need it.

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