I have a unique perspective regarding caregivers because I have been the patient and the caregiver. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2008 and underwent treatment in 2009.
Recently, I have found myself as a caregiver for a close friend and my sister. Even though I am not the primary caregiver, I understand so much more and appreciate what my family did for me.
I didn’t realized the sacrifices my family made while caring for me when I was sick. Both of my daughters gave up activities in order to assist me. My husband assumed most of the household duties and meal planning.
Now, my husband is very sensitive to those who are undertaking the role of the caregiver. I have noticed that he always asks the caregiver how they are doing. He told me he does that because nobody asked him how he was doing when he was taking care of me. So often, caregivers are the overlooked travelers on the cancer journey or when dealing with a serious illness.
Caregivers Need Care
It may surprise you to know that there are over 90 million family caregivers in the United States.
Just as the patient has a support team, the caregivers also need a support team. In the lasts 18 months, I have been a caregiver for two very special people in my life: my friend and my sister. It is very demanding and the responsibilities can be overwhelming.
Here is an example of how I organized a support team of caregivers: First, I spoke with the individual and helped each of them realize that they would need assistance. Together we established a list of people who would be available to provide transportation, make meals and assist with medical appointments.
In both situations, I took notes at medical appointments and organized a notebook to use as a reference guide as additional caregivers took turns. Also, I organized a phone tree, transportation to medical appointments as well as meal plans. It really does take a village to care for someone who is ill.
Caregivers need friends and family members who will ensure that they are receiving adequate care for physical needs and emotional needs. Caregivers often put themselves last. The stress of being the caregiver can also lead to a high-risk of health issues. Therefore, we need to be aware of those who are acting as caregivers for family members and help them.
“…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV)
Rest. Recharge. Renew.
Being a caregiver can be rewarding and physically demanding at the same time. Therefore, caregivers need a break and they need to rest. They need time to recharge. Caregivers need to have someone to talk to when they feel overwhelmed. Ideally, caregiver support groups provide a safe place to discuss the challenges, stresses and rewards of providing care for a family member.
Cancer or serious illness has the ability to interrupt so many lives and we need to make sure that we take care of those who are giving care. Serious illnesses do not have to control your life. The power in living comes from being able to keep your schedule and routine as normal as possible.
What Can You Do?
If you have a friend or family member fulfilling the caregiver role, here are some ideas to help you, help them.
- Check in with them often.
- Pick up the phone and give them a call. Most likely a text will get lost in all the other emails and paperwork.
- Meet them for a cup of coffee.
- Send a card.
- Pray for them.
Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. (1Peter 4:11 NLT)
Remember, caregivers need care.