Take Care of the Caregiver

Take Care of the Caregiver

I think it is important to realize that the caregiver is on a parallel and likely, an even harder journey than the cancer patient. After I received my lung cancer diagnosis, at first I was in shock, then I went into fighting mode. This mode included gathering piles of information to learn about my cancer and going to appointments and scans. And then I had to figure out my treatment options. It was typical of what newly diagnosed cancer patients do. At the time, however, I never considered what was going through the mind of my caregiver – my wife Missi. I was so uber-focused on myself and what I needed to do, that I didn’t even think about how Missi was feeling.

Lung cancer impacts the whole family

The reason I think it may be harder for the caregiver is that, in my case, once I met with my doctor and got the diagnosis, I realized I had to just deal with my situation. I had two choices – give up or fight. Of course, I chose to fight. Once I entered that mode, I had a singular focus – fight for my life. While I also thought of my family and future (my wife and 3 young boys), I really was just preparing for my treatment. On the other hand, my wife was considering what life would be like without me should things not work out. How would she handle all of the things that we shared – taking care of the kids, the house, the expenses of raising a family, her future?

Then I had my lobectomy, spent a week in the hospital and then months of recovery. She was the one who kept everything together. She took care of everything – she took care of the boys, who were 5, 3 and 1 at the time, paid the bills, mowed the lawn, did everything. And she was taking care of me too. All the while worrying about her future, and the future of our kids. And whether my cancer would return. This was 24/7 for her. Oh and by the way, all while having a full time job as a registered nurse!

Caregivers shoulder the emotional burden, too

Emotionally this was a huge burden on my wife. I would guess this is typical for all families affected by cancer. But caregivers need to be taken care of too. So much attention is paid to the cancer patient. In my case, I could barely get out of bed for several weeks after my invasive surgery. Who takes care of the caregiver? I’ve since told her many times how grateful I am that she was there for me. But I did not tell her enough at the time she was caring for me.

I hope that when health care providers give the news of a cancer diagnosis they will take time to speak about taking care of the emotional needs of the caregiver. I hope that family and friends will also take notice of how hard it is for the caregiver. Not just the patient. Maybe the cancer patient can be more proactive in telling friends and family to take good care of the caregiver. If you are a newly diagnosed lung cancer patient, I hope you will heed these words.

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