Lessons Learned by a Cancer Caregiver
At 22 years old, Rachelle Provost didn’t anticipate taking on the role of caregiver for a parent for many years. That all changed in October when at 48 years old, her mother was diagnosed with leukemia and immediately began seven weeks of in-patient treatment followed by eight months of outpatient chemotherapy.
Still in university, Rachelle juggles being a caregiver with school, a part-time job, and volunteering. "When a loved one has cancer, it’s easy to consider how the patient’s life will look going forward," says Rachelle, "but their caregiver is often overlooked.
Being a caregiver to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer requires time, effort, support and, put simply, care. “It can be easy to forget about yourself and your needs,” Rachelle admits, “but it’s so important that you care for yourself so that you’re able to care for your loved one.” Rachelle has learned valuable lessons while caring for her mom and offers the following advice to those who may be in a similar situation.
Talk about and understand what your loved one needs from you.
Do they need physical and emotional support? Do you need to take over finances while they are in treatment? What are their worries? Discussing these topics can help you as the caregiver understand how to support your loved one. Keep in mind, they may not know what they need at the beginning of their treatment, and their needs will change with time. Letting them know you are open to having these conversations will help build strong communication.
Recognize when you need time for yourself.
Being a caregiver is physically, mentally and emotionally straining. Be mindful of when you need a break and take time for yourself when you can. It can be something as simple as going to get a coffee, calling a friend, going for a walk or exercise class, or getting up and walking a few laps of the ward every half an hour. Reflect on what you need and remember that It’s ok to ask for help. You will be able to care for your loved one better when you are well.
Find a support person.
Many caregivers do not want to “burden” their loved ones with their own problems. When you are consistently providing care for your loved one, it’s important to find someone you can turn to when you need support and someone to talk through your feelings with, whether it be a friend, partner or family member.
Know when you need to reach out.
There is no shame in seeking support during this journey. Join a support group, talk to other families or find an online cancer caregiver community. Recognize when you need to seek professional help through a social worker, counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. If you are struggling, look for resources available in your community.
Resources for caregivers:
- Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
- Government of Ontario – Find mental health and addiction services in your community
- ConnexOntario – Addiction, Mental Health, and Problem Gambling Treatment Services
- Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600
- Caregiverexchange.ca -Provides services that support caregivers in communities across Ontario. Search for information about support groups, classes, fundraisers and other events.
- Canadian Cancer Society - Provides advice, support, and information for care providers
- Cancer Connection - An online community through the Canadian Cancer Society
Being a caregiver is challenging, but Rachelle focuses the positives.“I’ve learned a lot about my mom, myself and our relationship," she says. "Though our lives changed so quickly and cancer brought a lot of stress, worry, and unknowns - It also brought us closer.”