Hearing the C word from a doctor could change your lives forever. Being diagnosed with cancer and going through all the painful treatments that follow can be extremely traumatic for a patient. While you desperately want to be of help to them, the role of a caregiver might seem overwhelming to you at first. You’re not entirely sure what they need nor do you want to suffocate them by being too present. If you’re confused as to how to be supportive of your loved one, here are a few helpful guidelines.
1. Become Their Coordinator
Your loved one is probably too drained physically and emotionally to stay on top of everything in their lives, so you’re going to have to step up. Planners are probably going to be your best friend during these times. Make a to-do list every week to cover groceries, home maintenance and other chores. Keep track of their doctor’s appointments and treatment schedules. Writing it all down in one place will help you keep your sanity as you don’t have to scramble through old scraps of paper to remember things. It will also help give your loved one and you some semblance of order amidst all the chaos.
2. Do All Your Research
Having to absorb the reality of their illness is difficult enough for a patient without trying to remember all the medical jargon that is constantly thrown at them. To help them get clarity, it’s your job to read everything you can about their disease or talk to doctors about it until you fully understand. Additionally, you’ll also have to research backgrounds of doctors, hospitals and treatment options to ensure that your loved one is getting the best care. You might feel a little out of your depth in this area, so try finding others who have survived cancer and ask them for suggestions. Knowing that they’re in good hands will leave them with less uncertainty about their situation.
3. Accompany Them To Their Appointments
Cancer can feel like an extremely lonely experience for someone diagnosed with it as they’re the only ones who truly know what it’s like to go through. Try to limit these feelings as much as possible by always being there for them. Doctor appointments can take hours of waiting and treatments can take even longer. Throughout this experience, it will always be consoling to have someone they love with them. Keeping them company will help distract them from their discomfort and cheer them up. Most patients are exhausted at the end of their chemotherapy treatments, so having you there to drive them home will be a welcome relief.
4. Make Sure They’re Eating Right
Cooking can be tiresome at the best of times, but for someone already weak from cancer, it can be a nightmare. Getting the right nutrition is paramount when someone is fighting cancer as their body’s immunity needs to always be up and running. One of the greatest things you can do for a loved one suffering from cancer, is to ensure that they never have to worry about their meals. Find out what they love to eat, and what they need to eat, so you can strike a healthy balance between the two. A general rule of thumb is to avoid rich, processed foods and stick to simple, vegetable-heavy meals. Keep a stock of hearty (homemade!) soups for times when they feel too sick to eat anything solid. Do their grocery shopping every week to ensure that their fridge is always filled with healthy food. If you don’t live with them, write a meal schedule for them and ensure that their family members stick to it.
5. Offer To Babysit
If your loved one has young children, this period could be extremely scary for them. Finding out how sick their parent is and watching them go through long treatments can turn their whole world upside down. For a parent as well, taking care of their kids while trying to shield them from as much as possible could be very stressful. Try to help out as much as you can by offering to drop their kids to school, go to all their recitals and offer a hand with their homework. Children need stability most of all during this time, so make sure their lives are as normal as possible. Take them out for movies and other fun trips during the weekend to give them a break. All the focus surrounding their parent can often make a kid feel neglected, so make sure you help them feel like they’re still a priority. Their parents too will feel a lot more happy when they know that all of their kids’ needs are being met.
6. Don’t Try To Do It All Yourself
Taking on every task can be draining for you physically and mentally. Delegating tasks will help develop a strong support system for your loved one and will keep you from feeling stressed too. You might want to be a one-man/woman army for them, but don’t feel ashamed to ask for help when you need it. Depending on their condition, there might come a time when you need a professional to help out. If this happens, don’t feel like you’re inadequate or being neglectful of your loved one. They know you’re doing everything you can to help out, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
7. Just Be There
Sometimes, the best thing you could do for your loved one is to just give them company. Knowing that they can depend on someone every step of the way will give them immense comfort. When they talk to you about their fears, be a good listener instead of trying to find a solution to their worries immediately. Boredom can worsen their anxiety, so make sure they always have enough mental stimulation. If they love reading, drop off some books and magazines every few weeks. You could even have movie sessions with them or go to parks. While it’s important to be available for them, it’s equally important to ensure that you’re not taking up all their space. Don’t just assume they want to spend every minute with you just because they’re sick. Encourage them to be open with you and let you know when they want some alone time. Letting them know you’ll always be there to help them is just as important as your mere physical presence.