When someone is diagnosed with a disease, it becomes central to their world – everything revolves around treatments, appointments and medication. The same is true for caregivers – the ones who take the patient to appointments, advocate for treatments and make sure the patient is taking medications on time. With the focus on the patient, caregivers are often overlooked.
Here’s one caregiver’s personal journey of how she came to accept help and support from family and friends, and the difference that made.
By Nancy Mednik, husband’s caregiver
I will never forget May 8, 2013. While I was watching our little granddaughter, my husband called. He had just left a routine exam with a new ear nose and throat (ENT) doctor and was told he had tonsil cancer. It was like being kicked in the stomach. Worse, I wasn’t there with him.
Becoming the sole caregiver to a patient undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy was something I wasn’t prepared for. After the initial shock, panic set in. What to do, where to go, how to process everything being thrown at us from so many directions? We were put on the fast track, and my husband took everything at face value. His approach: “Do what the doctor says to do, don’t ask too many questions and everything will be fine.”
But as his wife and caregiver, I had questions. We needed another opinion, more time to research our options. And I desperately needed to talk with others who were dealing with the same situation, someplace where I would have a voice and find support.
My biggest obstacle: ME. I tend to be a one-woman show. I was able to work from home, pay bills, take care of my husband, run errands and attend appointments with him. That left little time for me. And because the damage to my husband’s throat was so severe, he could only take in liquids. So after just a few weeks, I wasn’t eating much either. I lost 25 pounds, stopped exercising, took no interest in anything and put all my efforts into my husband’s recovery.
Thankfully, I eventually found an online support group and a local cancer support group. My new wise friends encouraged me to eat better, get rest and accept any help offered by friends and family. They were my lifeline during his months of treatment and recovery. I could ask questions and complain to real people who clearly understood.
Take it from someone who tried to do it all on my own: accept any offer that comes your way – be it food, housekeeping, running errands or just a night out with a friend. Take anything that will give you a break from the day-to-day routine as caregiver. Make time for yourself. Walk, read, eat, rest or just treat yourself to something special. Accept help. Find a support group and share your worries, concerns and complaints with those who understand. Be proactive and pay it forward when it’s your turn!
As caregivers, we can learn to accept help and offers from others. We can say “yes” and enjoy all of the good things that come from that one little word.
Many Mercy communities offer support groups for cancer patients and their caregivers. Call your local cancer center for more information.