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Living with a cancer patient: Here’s how caregivers can stay strong

The caregiver’s wellbeing is vital to maintain the overall health of their patient. The fourth article of our five-part series looks at the needs of the caregivers, who face immense emotional turmoil, guilt, regret and often, through the course of continued struggle, a negative mindset.

health Updated: Mar 15, 2018 09:00 IST
Mariyam Raza Haider
Mariyam Raza Haider
Hindustan Times
Cancer,Cancer care,Cancer research
A caregiver should ensure that their concerns are understood without judgement or lack of empathy.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“I am stuck between choosing the right responsibilities in life,” I said to my friend. “You are not stuck; you are conscious of the need to choose. This means that they’re all important and you’ll figure a way out,” she replied. Balancing personal and professional life is a remarkable feat which each one of us continues to strive for in our adulthood. However, when your personal life is dealt a difficult card like an illness of a loved one, it becomes harder to keep those scales equal.

You steer your life into an auto pilot mode as you strike out the to-do-lists, schedule appointments, sit through eight hours of office and be back at the beck and call of the patient at home. The results often are exceeding amounts of burnout, mood swings and an irrational thought process.

Discuss your aspirations, choices and duties with your trusted sibling or friend who can give you a broader scope of life. We all fall for our blind spots when going through a rough phase and a trustworthy person can help us see a clearer picture and take well-informed decisions.

In cancer care, the focus is by default more on the patient’s requirements than the caregiver’s. However, the needs of the caregivers are vital to maintain the overarching well-being of their patient. Caregivers face immense emotional turmoil, guilt, regret and often, through the course of continued struggle, a negative mindset. Through my father’s illness, I have undergone the motions of finding myself in the midst of such sentiments.

With time, I have learnt a few things in order to navigate through this period and take care of myself, that I highlight below.

1. Do not feel guilty for self-prioritising: The societal structure expects one to be servient to an ill parent often at the cost of his/her own needs. What it doesn’t highlight is that losing yourself in a personal struggle often disturbs the patient more. From experience, I know that my father feels better when he realises that his illness is not overly affecting my life. When and if the work load gets too much, a caregiver must rest his/her body and mind, devote time to recreation, take a weekend off, meet up with friends, and self-heal to rejuvenate.

2. Develop strong personal connections: Family crisis often lead to communication gaps within members causing misunderstandings. A caregiver should ensure that their concerns are understood without judgement or lack of empathy. Discuss your aspirations, choices and duties with your trusted sibling or friend who can give you a broader scope of life. We all fall for our blind spots when going through a rough phase and a trustworthy person can help us see a clearer picture and take well-informed decisions.

3. Seek professional help if needed: Troubles hone the strength and maturity of people, but keeping a positive frame of mind in such times is a steep effort, one that might require external help. Speaking to a professional about one’s pressures can seem insignificant in the light of an ill parent, but is an important path to develop a stronger self. A therapist can act as a resounding board of your flood of thoughts, offer you room to understand and value yourself. Additionally, he/she can help you discover better channels of coping mechanisms providing constructive outlets to build resilience.

As a young person, I have faced dilemmas around my life choices, my father’s needs and the ability to handle it well without regretting any decision. However, it does not always work. You do end up feeling miserable over some choice or the other. Cancer does not always offer a win-win situation.

What it does however, is provide you the chance to identify your core values, your main priorities and above all, recognise the people who hold meaning in your life. It is a period that shows you new pathways to happiness, surprises you with qualities you thought you never had and changes your perspective about life and death.

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

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First Published: Mar 15, 2018 08:59 IST