Cancer can rock your world at any age, especially if the one diagnosed is a spouse or close family member.
While new targeted therapies have brought the hope of a good quality of life for a longer period of time with terminal cancer, the disease can take its toll on everyone involved.
This article highlights some of the key issues I faced and lessons I learned as a caregiver and hopefully offers some insights to help you navigate the challenging path of caring for a loved one with terminal cancer.
The Issue: Fretting Over Finances
A cancer diagnosis is never convenient. It can happen anytime, including when your loved one is in their professional prime. Cancer therapy is both costly and draining, so it’s important that you are equipped with the knowledge and resources to help your loved one through this difficult time.
While undergoing treatment, your loved one may no longer have the energy to take on a 40-hour workweek, and with less working hours and mounting medical bills, people in a caregiver-patient role can easily fall into financial instability.
The Lesson: Use Your Resources and Seek Assistance
One thing I wish I knew throughout my time as a caregiver is that it’s vital to reassess your finances as soon as a diagnosis of cancer is determined.
Being transparent with your loved one about finances is vital. Find time to sit down together and discuss a plan of action for managing the costs of treatment and how that will be factored into your overall budget.
If your financial stability is becoming too much to manage on your own, speak with a financial advisor about the ways you can optimize your savings or leverage your assets.
You should also take the time to evaluate what treatments and other expenses are covered under your loved one’s insurance plan.
The Issue: The Difficulties of Daily Life
A terminal cancer therapy plan lays out the steps by which modern medicine can help a patient continue to enjoy life for as long as possible, but it doesn’t really offer much guidance for the everyday challenges that can arise as a result of the disease.
As your loved one’s disease progresses, you may ask yourself questions like how can I continue to be an effective parent when a terminal cancer diagnosis is looming over me? Or, what can I do to combat issues of intimacy or closeness when my loved one’s condition is deteriorating?
Added to this list of questions can be the stress of not knowing how long you have with your loved one, and how long they will continue to combat the disease.
The Lesson: Find Help and Be Present
One thing I heard a lot that finally helped me once I let it sink in was that I wasn’t the only one going through this as a caregiver.
In fact, since many others have gone through this before, there is an entire network of resources and organizations that can help you navigate through this difficult season.
Beyond outside support, one principle that completely changed my caregiver perspective is to simply be present and live in the moment.
The future for you and your loved one might be unclear, but, by focusing on the here and now, you can temporarily disconnect from the negative emotions that might be lurking on a future horizon and focus on the moment at hand.
Living presently can also help you make new memories for you to cherish long after your loved one passes.
The Issue: Maintaining Mental Health
One of the biggest issues I went through and many caregivers face is not taking care of yourself when you are trying to meet the needs of everyone around you.
When you jump into a role as caregiver for your spouse or loved one, you can easily lose track of your own wellbeing as you support them throughout the roller-coaster ride of cancer therapy.
The highs and lows of supporting a loved one with a terminal illness can drain you emotionally and physically. If you don’t take the time to care for yourself, you are setting yourself on a path to caregiver burnout.
The Lesson: Self Care is Not Selfish. Seek Help & Truth
In order to be the most effective caregiver you can be it is essential that you cope directly with the reality of the diagnosis and come to terms with how you really feel about your loved one’s condition.
Prepare yourself for the future and welcome the grief, even the anticipatory grief that is common in the weeks and months of your loved one’s diagnosis.
Don’t isolate yourself as you come to terms with what you are feeling. Remember the old adage that “no one is an island’; enlist the support of other friends, family, or support groups where you can find solace for your bruised spirit.
Caring for your loved one with a terminal cancer diagnosis really means that you are embarking with them on a monumental journey. It will not be easy, but by considering these challenges for the modern caregiver you can better prepare yourself for what can be a powerfully important period of your relationship together.
Author Bio: Christian Worstell is a health and lifestyle writer living in Raleigh, NC.