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Living with a cancer patient: Here’s how a caregiver can also be a therapist

Cancer as a disease requires tremendous physical and mental strength from the patient and the caregiver. The third article of our five-part series, suggests ways a caregiver can engage the patient in healthier conversations and initiate actions which can improve the patient’s emotional strength.

health Updated: Mar 12, 2018 09:25 IST
Mariyam Raza Haider
Mariyam Raza Haider
Hindustan Times
Living with a cancer patient,Caregiver,Emotional strength
Cancer treatment can bring with itself an onslaught of negative feelings like guilt, fear, anger and endless worries. It is in times like these that a caregiver’s role has to become that of a therapist.(Getty Images)

“Our life would be so much better if I had not fallen ill,” said my father to me one evening. “No one wants to fall ill, it’s just a phase of life. Things will get better,” I replied. He seemed unconvinced and continued to mull on that thought.

Cancer treatment can bring with itself an onslaught of negative feelings like guilt, fear, anger and endless worries. Throughout the course of the illness, such emotions can resonate on many occasions. During an argument with the spouse, rummaging through old photographs, or simply while chatting with the children; undesirable feelings can find ways to show up and pull a patient down.

The primary reason is the physical strain of an intense chemotherapy regime which often forces the patient to stay in bed fenced by his/her own thoughts. It is in times like these that a caregiver’s role has to become that of a therapist. You need to maintain your composure, engage the patient in healthier conversations and initiate actions which can improve the patient’s emotional strength.

As I see my father go through some of his tough moments, here are a few suggestions on how to drive away negativity and keep the patient’s spirits up.

1. Indulge in tough conversations: “What about the future scares you the most? What do you count as your main responsibilities? Do you feel lonely?” Confronting the patient with hard questions challenges him/her to move out of their solitary beliefs, untangle the knotted worries and search for answers. Take your loved one on a walk and have conversations that can touch their deepest fears. Tackling painful thoughts is immensely challenging, at the same time, a powerful way to calm the mind and take control of one’s negative feelings.

2. Encourage the patient to tell their story: Finding the voice and the medium to narrate one’s life journey instils in a person the strength to deal with its ups and downs. A caregiver must encourage the patient to narrate their battle with cancer, which will help in dissipating feelings of shame and guilt attached to it. Writing journals, having honest discussions with friends or colleagues, are all channels of developing one’s mindset towards a more positive outlook.

3. Help the patient become self-reliant: Taking care of yourself and your daily needs is an enriching act of self-dependence and cancer threatens to take that away. Managing one’s routines like physical activity, domestic chores, professional work; all considering the body’s limits, are ways for a patient to build the confidence to continue their fight. A caregiver must encourage such activities which act as positive reinforcements for the patient to face the illness and emerge out of it, stronger.

Confronting the patient with hard questions challenges him/her to untangle the knotted worries and search for answers. Tackling painful thoughts is immensely difficult, at the same time, a powerful way to calm the mind and take control of one’s negative feelings.

Negative feelings play havoc with a patient’s mind, reeling one into the irrecoverable past and an uncertain future while diluting the essence of the present moment. It therefore is imperative for the caregiver to help the patient see the worth of living each day and not constantly worry about the future. As my father volunteers to drive to the hospital on his chemotherapy days, we both often use that time to indulge in small talk, valuable driving lessons or simply his insights on life.

The drives provide him the much-needed sense of control and me the opportunity to help him filter the unnecessary concerns out. Discussions like these can become challenging for the caregiver as it involves confronting painful realities, simplifying them to the basics and figuring out solutions. However, it is a learning process of knowing each other better, building emotional stamina and a means of spending quality time together.

The author writes on decoding positivity as her father fights through aggressive oral cancer on mariyamrazahaider.com.

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First Published: Mar 12, 2018 09:24 IST