There are many scourges plaguing this world of ours, and when it comes to disease, cancer is right up there with the worst of them.
In the early ‘90s, scientists had predicted that by now, strides in cancer treatment would have been made to contain the disease. Instead, what we are faced with two decades later is a steady rise in the number of patients suffering from the disease.
More and more people are succumbing to this or that type of cancer by the day, and the thought of you or a loved one being the next is terrifying to say the least.
But while much is made about the patients of an illness that has been dubbed the scourge of the 21st century, one aspect that is often forgotten is that of caregiving.
Inside the World of Caregiving
Nothing prepares you for the emotional turmoil you undergo when someone you love receives the dreaded news of an incapacitating illness for which there is no cure.
And even when the news has long settled in, the act of caregiving is one of the most difficult things anyone can find themselves doing.
This is especially when the caregiver has ties to the cancer patient – probably a spouse, family member or close friend – as opposed to a professional caregiver who is hired to provide assistance.
It’s more common now for cancer patients to receive treatment at an outpatient centre as opposed to being bedridden at the hospital.
This means the person you are caring for is at home, with a range of needs and concerns that are subject to change as their health fluctuates. It’s a big challenge no one can quite prepare for, more so when it comes to cancer cases.
This was captured in a national survey conducted in the United States by the U.S. National Cancer Institute which reported that cancer caregivers were 63% likely to be more burdened than other caregivers.
They also spent more time providing care – almost 50 hours a week more.
Beneath the Surface
Caring for a cancer patient is an almost 24/7 commitment, with multiple roles to fulfil as the disease progresses.
As a caregiver, you have to sort out insurance issues, arrange schedules and take care of transport. You act as the housekeeper, the carer, the financial manager and legal assistant all-in-one.
If the patient is a spouse, the partner has to assume some of the patient’s duties in order to meet other family responsibilities.
That’s on the surface.
Beneath, it’s bubbling.
Staying with someone living with cancer can be a very dark period.
It is sad news for all involved, especially when dealing with a loved one. Since caregivers spend most of the time with the patient, it is upon them to provide that proverbial ray of sunshine; to lift that gloom.
But in all honesty, when someone you love is potentially staring death in the face, happiness can be a hard thing to come by.
The patient is under extreme incessant pain, so it is not like you can sit back and reminisce on all the good times you shared.
It is hard to when you can literally witness the patient’s body transform so quickly (for the worse), and the beaten look in their eyes when they look themselves in the mirror.
It is a daily emotional test that stretches both of you emotionally.
One aspect of cancer that’s not often talked about is the well of emotions associated with the illness.
Patients suffering from cancer are prone to emotional outbursts. Obviously, anyone diagnosed with such a fatal disease is bound to act out every now and then, imagining as to how the illness has disrupted their life.
Actually, this is one of the first emotional reactions many patients go through following diagnosis.
Mood swings are also a common affair.
One day a patient might wake up feeling like they could take on the world, the next the moods sneak up and turn the day grey.
This is especially so during chemo treatment when feelings of irritability, anger and even aggressive behaviour can creep up out of nowhere. This is known as chemo rage, and it is something caregivers have to put up with, which can be both worrying and upsetting.
Cancer caregivers are also prone to suffer from anger and other dark emotions themselves.
The anger can both be direct – too many mishaps in a day, unfair criticism or an uncooperative patient – or indirect – pent-up disappointment, frustration over lack of control, lack of sleep etc.
Guilt is inevitable from time to time. Caretakers can be hard on themselves by thinking they probably said or did the wrong thing, or that they did not carry themselves in the ‘right way’ and other such feelings.
They can overburden themselves with many self-imposed ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’ which can be counterproductive at a time when they need to be their own best advocate.
Feelings of resentment could creep up too. This is something many people are loathe to admit to, but something that could rear its ugly head.
The resentment could stem from the feeling that the caregiver’s life has been hijacked by the commitments and is no longer within their own control. They could also feel the other family members are not doing enough to help.
Caregiving could also lead to loneliness which can be caused by a loss of social life as the time demands pull you away from outside activities.
A sudden loss of social life affects one person as much as the next.
The world of caregiving is an emotional rollercoaster and affects each person differently.
It’s tough and can make one emotionally and physically weary. This is part of the journey of walking with a cancer patient, and none of us are ever prepared for it.
But if it comes your way, heaven forbid, you just have to take it one step at a time. It might fill you with dread, but it’s even scarier for your cancer patient.
It’s hard to put yourself in their shoes, but the patient needs your attention, time and love to recuperate or carry on from day-to-day. And treatment and therapy alone will not achieve that.
Saying this might not mean much, but cancer caregivers are unsung heroes in any cancer patient’s journey.
It certainly is no small fete, what they do and hence the reason why only a few stay the course and many just run as far away from it all and as fast as they possibly can.
Look out for my book “On the other side of cancer & other terminal illness!”
Jillian Haslam Bio
Jillian is a Motivational Speaker and a coach with distinction, and has had a 20 year career in banking, including working with executives at board level. Bank of England. RBS, Nova Nordisk. McDonalds and The University of Cambridge are some of the names on her impressive list of clients.
Born and raised in abject poverty in Calcutta – Jillian is a truly inspirational and professional keynote speaker. She uses her experience and motivational stories to inspire others to face their fears using the power of resilience, something she calls “He Irrepressible Mind.”. With her motivational words and her warmth, she engages and empathises with her audience. She has received some of the most amazing testimonials from Corporates, universities & schools alike. To review some of these, please visit https://jillianhaslam.
Aside from being a successful businesswoman, philanthropist, and conference speaker, she is a published author “Indian.English”. An inspirational story about her life, of finding the road to success, and how she utilises her wisdom and vision is a story that will make anyone take action in their lives.