Caregiver. We love the people who help us in difficult times, but if you are like me, I tried to be the caregiver to my own caregivers. Make sense? Let me explain. If you have breast cancer, you may be tempted to worry about the people caring for you, right? I sure did. In fact, the guilt really took over my entire psyche. What can I say, “Jewish Guilt” is a part of who I am. Thanks Mom and Dad. Anyhoo, I learned through my experience that I had enough on my plate. It was hard to let the caregivers do their job when taking care of me during treatment because I am a control freak and felt bad about relying on others. I had to take a deep breath and LET IT GO! I’ve come up with four tips for caregivers that I want to pass on to the people helping you during this difficult time in your life.
Caregiver Tip No. 1: Take care of yourself first
All too often, caregivers deny their own needs. It’s admirable, but it doesn’t work. Caregivers who ignore themselves wind up sick, depressed, burned out, and no good to anyone. To prevent that, if you’re a caregiver, carve out some time in each day (or at least each week) for yourself. Make time for things like exercise (still the world’s best stress-buster), eating a decent meal, and favorite activities—reading, music, hobbies, sports—even if it’s for just a short while. That means planning ahead of time, since waiting till the chores get done never works. Let’s face it, there are always more chores. We know that, right?
Caregiver Tip No. 2: Don’t help too much
Some people have trouble being taken care of. Ahem….just sayin’!! I was so used to being Wonder Woman and doing it all. If you are like me, give Wonder Woman’s golden cuffs and lasso a little rest. In the beginning, being on the receiving end of a caregiver’s efforts made me feel silly, like I was being a burden. However, during my treatment, I did have time to myself, which I truly appreciated. I didn’t have to answer to anyone and didn’t feel like I needed to pretend to feel okay, which I did quite often. My friends acknowledged that time, which was a blessing for me. Caregivers should give their patients space. It’s often the little things—cleaning up the living room, say, so a woman recovering from surgery has a place to rest during the day—that help most. My caregivers or “Chemo Team” as I called them were amazing!
Caregiver Tip No. 3: Keep your sense of humor
Sure, cancer is a serious matter, but the whole process is a little crazy, laughable, and absurd. I began journaling during my treatment, which turned into my manuscript, Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds! My caretakers or “Chemo Team” couldn’t get enough of my antics and stories. I’m glad I could provide them with material that made all of us laugh. This included my 6 trips on 6 different consecutive occasions to the drugstore to buy Pepcid. Seriously.
Caregiver Tip No. 4: Don’t do it alone
Martyrs don’t make good caregivers. Anyone who tries to shoulder the burden alone is well on the way to burnout. Maybe there are friends and neighbors who’d feel better knowing they’d made a contribution through meals, visits, or transportation to and from doctor’s appointments.
My best friend, Sharon, set up a chart for friends to sign up via email. How ingenious is that? And while you’re divvying up tasks, my friends did benefit from talking things out a little. After all, caregivers need to vent just as much as the patient.
“Caregivers often need their own emotional support and can join a support group,” says Robin Hershkowitz, program director for women’s cancers at CancerCare, a national nonprofit support services group based in New York City. Her organization offers support in person, by phone or online for both caregivers as well as patients.
I hope this advice helps you during your journey through the “Pink Bubble.”