Letters from Cancer Caregivers: How to Support Yourself and Your Loved One
Moms, dads, partners, kids, friends, and other family members step into the caregiver role as soon as they hear the news of a cancer diagnosis. Focused on their loved one getting better, it’s easy to overlook the stress, fear, and concern that weighs down caregiver shoulders.
It goes without saying that caregivers play meaningful roles in cancer experiences, but their voices need moments in the spotlight, too. We reached out to some caregivers in our community, and they shared letters to their fellow cancer caregivers filled with empathy, advice, and words of encouragement.
So without further ado, I’ll let them do the talking.
Laura’s son, Dalton, was diagnosed with leukemia at just three-years-old. Life for Dalton and his younger siblings was turned upside down, while Laura and her husband immediately put on their caregiver hats to be by their son’s side and get him to and from the hospital. Now beyond treatment, Laura has seven tips for other parents of children with cancer.
1. It is okay to say “no.” Your friends and family will still wrap their arms around you and love you deeply.
2. It is also okay to say “yes!” Often your family, friends, and community don’t know how to help you. But trust me, they want to! Find things that you feel comfortable saying “yes” to. That might not be laundry, but you could really use help with meals, yard work, or cleaning up before you come home from another long hospital stay. Let them take your other children for a play-date and some special one-on-one time. In my case, it was decorating my house for Christmas – tree and all! It was magical.
3. Stay connected to those close to you. It will strengthen you and build deeper and more meaningful relationships.
4. Let it out – it’s okay to admit that you are overwhelmed! You don’t get an award for being “strong,” it will just drain you. Make space throughout your journey to feel the uncomfortable emotions. You will be stronger and make room for the joy as you find your way.
5. Use a binder! Let’s face it: Managing appointments, medications, therapies, and the million new tasks feels unbearable at times. Get organized with calendars, phone alarms, notebooks, or whatever works for you.
6. Allow yourself to do something that makes YOU feel good. Yes, taking care of your loved ones is the most rewarding and beautiful gift. But I am talking about YOU! Get some sunshine, put on some music, go out to dinner, get dressed up, share coffee with a friend. No cheating, it must be for YOU. Please do not feel guilty for taking care of you. Sometimes even the smallest moments for yourself can renew your soul.
7. Lastly, you are a beautiful, loving, and courageous human being. You have got this. YOU have got this!
Your fellow caregiver
Sitting in the chemotherapy center where his wife was undergoing her round of breast cancer treatment for the day, Jason summed up his raw emotions in this elegant and heartfelt message.
The “eye of the storm” is upon our family in this cancer journey.
Eight weeks ago, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. 36 years old, 28 weeks pregnant with our baby boy, and just a few days before our daughter’s second birthday.
Six weeks ago, she underwent a single mastectomy and reconstruction. The shock of the diagnosis had not even worn off and the surgery had already happened. The doctors were incredible. The process was as smooth and efficient as could be. Thankfully, it was the holidays … thankfully?
One week ago, we welcomed a healthy baby boy into our family. Mom and baby are doing great … great? What a happy time … happy?
Moments ago, I just watched what they call “the red devil,” a highly caustic chemical get pushed into my wife’s chemo port as she told stories and shared pictures of our family with the nurses. This is the first of about 25+ infusions, many of which will take the better part of a day to receive, away from our children, and many of which will rob her of her hair, her energy, and, most importantly, her ability to be the strongest caregiver in our house.
There has been no time to second guess how we get through this.
Accept every offer for help that we can make work. Ask for help wherever we may get it. Spend our time preparing ourselves, our home, and our minds for all that we must endure to beat this cancer.
We are ready. We are positive. The prognosis is positive. We have so many reasons, including two beautiful children, to remind us what the fight is for, but we will need help – all the help we can get. Extra help does not go to waste, it gets paid forward. When we are on the other side of this, we will look to help others in just the way that we have already been helped. In just these quick eight weeks, the outpouring has been so strong, that I have not had time to second guess anything that has happened.
The back half of the storm is always the worst, but I know with the help that we’ve received, we will be our strongest when the sun returns.
When Lois’ husband, Drew, was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in April of last year, their daughter was just 17 months old. Lois balances caring for her husband and their young daughter while Drew recovers from a bone marrow transplant – but, as she reminds other caregivers in her note, she is still mindful of finding time for herself and accepting help when she needs it.
To my fellow caregivers:
As a caregiver, the biggest lesson I learned was not doing it alone. You need to accept the help that people are offering – but you can accept the help you need and on your terms not theirs.
As a parent I needed people to watch my daughter so I could take my husband to his doctors appointments and have time to take care of myself. At times I would ask people to take her overnight, so that I could have a short break.
Caregivers tend to isolate themselves. You are so tired from caring for your loved one that you feel like you just don’t have the energy or time to connect with friends. Take that time because your friends can revive you and distract you for a little while. I had a great group of friends who would text to check on me, drop off books, and get me out of the house. It wasn’t often – but when it happened, it was wonderful.
Most clinics provide resources for both the patient and the caregiver. Take advantage of them. However, you need to do what is best for you not someone else. I had people pushing me to go to caregiver groups but I chose to go to individualized therapy because that worked better for me.
Everyone will give you advice, but remember that you get to choose what you are going to do with it. I often didn’t do anything with advice I received but I listened – you never know when you may need it. No one knows what you are going through but you. Sometimes you may need to distance yourself from someone and that is okay. Take care of yourself and don’t worry about hurting their feelings.
It’s okay to be selfish during this time.
Always walking the fine line between her right and left brain, Stevie brings her creative and strategic thinking to her role as Creative and Brand Manager. Through writing and design, she amplifies Family Reach’s voice and brings attention to the financial barriers that often accompany a cancer diagnosis.
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