Caregiving can be an uncertain road full of ups and downs, joys and challenges. That is very true for those taking care of loved ones with cancer. Estimates from the Canadian Cancer Society show that nearly one in two Canadians will face the potentially life-threatening disease at some point in their lifetime.
The good news is that survival rates have improved for many types of cancer over the last decade. The not-so-good news is that the journey to remission and managing the disease can be a difficult one for both the patient and their caregiver. Treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, while effective, can take a toll on the body. Side effects may include fatigue, nausea and loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea, irritability and cognitive issues.
That underscores the need for support from diagnosis to treatment and recovery for the person with the disease and the person they rely on for care. Duties can range greatly on any given day, from coordinating appointments to picking up medication and preparing meals. It’s an act of love that has many rewards, including bringing people together to assist. Caregivers, too, must embrace self-care so that they can tackle their responsibilities efficiently while ensuring they can enjoy moments of downtime and happiness.
Brian Douglas, an artist based in Brampton, Ontario, took care of his partner, Elizabeth, while she underwent diagnostic surgery, followed by chemotherapy to treat lymphoma. “There were some very difficult moments,” he says. “The hardest was not knowing whether the medications she was receiving that were so tough on her body were working. But we received the good news that the cancer was gone after her third round in a series of six chemotherapy sessions. The experience brought the two of us closer together and also strengthened our bond with friends and family who helped along the way.”
Tapping into resources and support
Douglas, like many caregivers, discovered that there were times when he needed a break. He would go visit his adult children for a few hours to destress, while close friends stayed with Elizabeth. “Living with someone who is battling cancer takes an emotional toll,” he says. “There are times you are at a loss to help that person. It makes taking time for self-care, even if it’s going out for a walk. It’s so important.”
His thoughts on self-care are echoed in Teva Canada’s Cancer: A Guide for Caregivers, a new, printable online resource that outlines dozens of ways to help navigate the cancer journey, from the early stages of getting a diagnosis to treatment to possible end-of-life decisions. It talks about how carers may put their own needs second and jeopardize their physical and emotional health as a result.
The guide also clearly outlines some of the tasks that a caregiver might have to undertake and how the disease itself or its treatment might affect their loved one. That could include changes in appearance (like hair loss associated with certain types of chemotherapy), mood, sleep patterns and nutritional needs. It helps to prepare by empowering oneself with knowledge about what to expect and have to navigate through the various stages of their loved one’s journey with cancer.
How to avoid caregiver burnout
Compassion fatigue, a type of burnout, can become an issue when the caregiver feels overwhelmed by how much falls on their shoulders and how little support they feel they have. Replenishing their own well of energy is critical for being able to stay the course without sacrificing their own health. Caregivers should consider taking Teva’s self-assessment quiz to determine how well they are coping, what steps they may need to take to prevent burnout and where they can find additional resources.
Speaking to a healthcare provider can help alleviate some of the symptoms of burnout, including headaches, fatigue, sleep disruption, an increase in blood pressure, anxiety or depression, withdrawal from social activities and changes in appetite and/or weight. These are common among caregivers and can be addressed with support from their own care team – like a family physician, pharmacist, or social worker.
Downloadable apps are useful tools to help get organized. You’ll find a complete list on the Teva site here, as well as many other resources.
Highlighted essential resources available from Teva Canada
- 10-episode, audio podcast series for cancer patients and carers
- Cancer care guide
- Watch the Acts of Love video here
- A website focused on caregivers
Presented through a sponsorship from Teva Canada.