Caregivers - The Benefits And The Challenges

by Jane Ashley

November is National Family Caregivers Month created by the Caregiver Action Network. Caregivers come in all ages and both sexes. They take care of their spouses, mothers or fathers, siblings or their children. There really is no profile of who family caregivers are – they are both male and female, younger and older.

Caregivers Round The Clock

But this month, we recognize our family caregivers who give so freely to help their loved ones stay at home, with dignity, love, and comfort. For all of us, we’ve become caregivers because our loved one has been diagnosed with cancer.

What Do Caregivers Do?

You name it, and some caregiver does it. From walking the family dog to fixing breakfast and giving morning medicines, caregivers become the orchestra leader to ensure that their loved one gets what they need when they need it. Transportation to and from the infusion or radiation center, picking up prescriptions, food preparation and taking care of laundry and other household chores are all part of a caregiver’s life.

Simply put, it is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job. Yet most caregivers have other responsibilities too. Juggling work and other family responsibilities stretch most caregivers mighty thin. But when you ask them, they will tell you, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The Benefits a Caregiver Receives

It’s estimated that almost 45 million people in the United States have cared for a loved one in the last 12 months. Family taking care of family is a strong part of many people’s upbringing, and they do it willingly and without compensation.

Family Activities

 • A sense of Purpose. Caregivers experience a sense of purpose – they feel useful and realize that their loved one needs them.

We Become Role Models for Others. Not only are you a role model for other family members, but you are also a role model for your friends who may face a similar situation.

A Feeling of Giving Back. If it is one of our parents that we're caring for, we feel that we are “giving back” to them for all of the sacrifices that they made for us.

Caregiving Builds Our Confidence in Ourselves. We learn that we are stronger and more capable than we realized.

Your Loved One Knows and Trusts You. It’s easier for a loved one to be cared for by someone that they already know and trust. It’s difficult for many patients to accept assistance with bathing and going to the bathroom with a stranger.

A Caregiver May Find Closure and Peace. Family drama happens, resulting in hard feelings that last a lifetime. Becoming caregiver to your mother, father or sibling may bring resolution to those feelings from long ago.

Feeling a Sense of Inner Joy. We know that little kindnesses done for our loved one lets them know how much we love them. In addition, we experience inner peace and happiness knowing that we did something special.

The Challenges Caregivers Face

But caregiving is not a bed of roses. Caregivers have other responsibilities including their job and their other household duties. Caregiving is a DARN hard job just by itself.

Gentle Touch

Caregivers Often Face Loss of Income. Taking time off to take our loved ones to chemo and radiation and other medical appointments costs us in lost wages. Don’t forget that FMLA offers 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave not only if you become ill but also if your spouse, parents or child become ill. The good news is that you don’t have to take all 12 weeks consecutively. You can take a week at a time, a day at a time or even hours at a time. So on chemo day, you might only need to lose an hour in the morning to take your loved one to chemo and an hour in the afternoon to pick them up and take them home. Be sure to talk to your HR department if you are faced with the role of caregiver and are also the breadwinner of the family.

Caregiving is stressful. Having cancer is not only stressful for the patient, it’s also stressful for the caregiver. We have to manage the news (even if it’s bad) as well as try to manage our loved one’s reaction to the news. And throw in work-related stress and household chores (inside and outside), we become time-starved and frazzled. Give yourself a daily 10-minute walk to help relieve stress.

Caregivers Get Tired. Not only do caregivers become physically tired from juggling all of their duties, but they get emotionally fatigued. Being the caregiver for a cancer patient is a full-time job in and of itself – the fatigue, side effects, and length of treatment are unlike most other caregiving duties. Caregivers end up staying up late or getting up early to do the laundry or to prepare food for the next meals.

Physically Challenging. Lots of our husbands, fathers, and brothers weigh over 200 pounds. Helping them get out of bed or stand up from a chair is physically demanding.

 • Caregivers Feel Isolated and/or Depressed. It’s a lonely job caring for our loved one who is suffering from cancer. Outsiders don’t understand how we feel as we watch our loved ones suffer. Co-workers and friends have no idea what it’s like to try to keep the household in order – wives get frustrated about the yard work not being done while husbands struggle with laundry and cooking. Caregivers feel lonely and isolated and depressed. Reach out to a trusted friend or minister or social worker at the cancer center for help.

Your Loved One Lashes Out at You. You just have to ignore those words and walk away to regain your composure. Your loved one hates putting you through this. Their anger over this situation causes them to lash out at the one they love the most. Sometimes, medications cause personality changes. Other times, the progression of their cancer might be the cause of anger or outbursts. Breathe a few deep breaths. It’s all that we can do.

The Bottom Line …

It’s easy to allow our caregiving role to so completely surround us that we forget about our personal relationship with our loved one. You might have to back off a bit and search out sources for outside help to allow you to have time to be the loving husband or wife or loving daughter or son so that you don’t lose sight of why you became their caregiver.

Don’t forget to include our spouse or parent or sibling or adult child in regular household activities too. If they want to help with the laundry, let them even if it takes them longer. Ask them if they’d like to go out for coffee. Ask them if they would help you put together a puzzle or do a favorite hobby. Suggest a walk down the block when the weather is nice. Don’t make them feel like a prisoner in the house – offer outside excursions – give them purpose and encouragement.

CAREGIVING – it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.

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