Caring for a Loved One
Article by Scott Sanders
Every year in the United States, 12.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer. Among the most prevalent diseases in the U.S., cancer is second only to heart disease. In 2017, there were 591,699 cancer-related deaths nationwide, and the percentage of total deaths that result from a cancer diagnosis is 22.5 percent. If you are currently one of the 2.8 million people serving as a caregiver for a loved one who’s going through cancer treatment, here are a few tips to help.
Types of Cancer
Cancer is a condition in which cells divide uncontrollably, breaking down your tissue. Some common forms of cancer include non-melanoma skin cancer, lung, breast, prostate, colorectal, bladder, melanoma, kidney, and leukemia. These are all prevalent. Skin cancer, for instance, affects more than 1 million people per year. Even lesser-known forms of cancer like thyroid are diagnosed at an alarming rate. In 2018, an estimated 53,990 new cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed. The number of deaths that occurred was 0.5 per 100,000 men and women per year. Approximately 1.2 percent of people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer at some point in their lives.
The Role of Caregiver
A cancer caregiver provides mental, physical, and emotional assistance to a person with cancer. That person might be your child, spouse, sister, neighbor, favorite cousin, or anyone else. Your role is a composite of different roles bundled together. For instance, you might act as that person’s medical advocate, making appointments or finishing paperwork on his behalf. Or you act as a domestic nurse, which means preparing meals and feeding that person, or making sure the medication dosages are correct. Many times, too, you’re his counselor, making sure he doesn’t feel overwhelmed or succumb to despair. Or you might step in as the household’s office manager, paying the bills, doing the laundry, and caring for pets or children.
Making Your Own Space
Patients with cancer need to attend to physical ailments but also should take steps to calm their mind. As a caregiver, you might prepare a quiet space within that person’s home where he can meditate. Set your sights on the attic, basement, or an enclosed outside patio. Every day, make sure that person spends at least some time in that room. While meditation is not a clinical method of treating cancer, its benefits are timeless. Easing pain, reducing stress, curbing memory loss, enlarging attention span, and boosting emotional wellness are all benefits of meditation. If they help the person you’re caring for, encourage him to meditate every day.
Caring for Yourself
Being a caregiver is a full-time job, and also frequently an unpaid family obligation. That means many caregivers have to still work 40 hours a week in addition to caring for someone. The scale of that responsibility can be overwhelming. So you need to take care of yourself, too. Practice self-care by getting enough sleep, taking up a hobby, and being around people who make you laugh (which has been shown to improve self-esteem and make people feel younger). In between all your duties, carve out at least some time during the day to relax so that you don’t burn out.
To combat cancer, seek the expertise of an oncologist to run tests, draw blood, and prescribe medicine or chemotherapy. But as a cancer caregiver, you can also supplement that medical attention and assist your loved one on the path toward recovery.
Scott Sanders is the creator of CancerWell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer. He is also the author of the book Put Yourself First: A Guide to Self-care and Spiritual Wellness During and After Cancer Treatment.
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