From time to time, we will feature a piece by one of our wonderful guest bloggers, who will generously share their personal experiences with us. We hope you find something useful in this next feature in our guest contributor’s series, with guest blogger Andrea Hawkins.
In the last few years I have had to adapt to many “new usuals”. My perspective is that of a caregiver. Both of my parents battled cancer; my Dad for just 5 months and my mom for 11 years. They passed just 10 months apart. I made many choices along the way that kept me close to home. Some would say I threw away my career, my marriage, my independence and my sanity. I wouldn’t! In the end, I was where I needed to be and I have no regrets. My goal here is to share what I have learned along the way and maybe help someone else who is in that caregiver role.
This first entry is a set of guidelines to help you through the daily routines during treatment.
You cannot do this all yourself. The emotional strain is exhausting and it is close to impossible to maintain a balance in your life if you try to take it on alone. I found that people close to you and people touched by your situation want to help, but many times they just don’t know how. There are many free services you can use that will help with some of the simple things. You can manage those services to ensure things are covered while giving yourself time to attend to your own family and responsibilities. Some of my favorites are: Takethemameal.com to help with meal planning; creating a schedule of appointments (you only need to be at the consultations) where friends can help you with transportation; dog walking (this is a great way for younger people to help); pet grooming mobile services that come to your house; personal care professionals will often do house calls; and neighbors are always good for lawn care and snow removal. If you or the person you are caring for is involved in a church, then reach out! We are a Catholic family and my parents were able to receive the gospel and the sacrament regularly as well as monthly visits for confessions and prayer. Your church can provide you a list of the ministries they offer members.
I kept a binder on the kitchen counter with the doctor/treatment schedules, medication schedules, menu plans, visitor log, and journal pages. Having the schedules in one place make it easier to organize transportation for appointments and also help the person you are caring for follow medication guidelines when you are not there. I used the visitor log to set some “visiting hours” to help keep the person from being overwhelmed or feeling uncomfortable saying no to visitors while they don’t feel well. The journal pages are important for reporting symptoms and how medications and activities make them feel. Anyone who has experienced “chemo brain” knows how important it is to write things down! The binder helped my folks feel like they were still somewhat independent while I was able to monitor the key pieces of their day.
The doctor consultations are the worst. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news and its always easier to speak “best case scenario.” I learned that if I didn’t ask those hard questions, no one else would. Especially the one with the illness! It is not always bad news. Sometimes its offering a trial drug. Take time and read the material. Weigh the side effects, do your research, talk about options, and let your loved one make their choice. When the time comes, ask if HOSPICE is an option. Yes, that usually means its near the end but they are an organization of angels!
I can’t imagine someone telling me what my expiration date is, even though I had to be the one who asked for my parents. There are things to be done, papers to be signed, calls to be made. If you can’t ask in front of them, that’s okay, really. Take a deep breath and ask.
A human being has basic emotional needs of compassion and dignity. As scared as you are, they are more scared. As stressful as this is to you, they are more stressed. As much as it hurts you to see them in pain, it hurts them to see you cry for them. I’ve seen it all and some of it isn’t pretty, but remember how embarrassing it must be for them. Clean up the mess like it is no big deal and give them a hug afterwards.
It seems so simple, but this is where I struggled the most. You cannot be everything. You cannot do everything. You are one person. You can only do your best by being your best. Follow the advice and guidance you are giving to your loved one! Eat right, exercise, sleep, laugh, get outside, and take a break once in a while!
Andrea Hawkins is a nutrition and fitness consultant. Find out more at www.sparkyourdiet.com.
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