Being a caregiver for a loved one with cancer presents challenges ranging from loss of personal time and space, career changes, financial burdens, feelings of hopelessness, and overwhelming fear and dread. And, with COVID-19 and social distancing, people living with cancer now have reasons to question their vulnerability to another life threatening disease.
Our family encountered this sense of vulnerability after son Steve had his cancer related back surgery in February.
Husband Harry and I had planned for Steve to stay with us until he healed and was able to live safely on his own. Thankfully the surgery went well. However, by March we were faced with COVID-19 and son Steve needed to remain with us beyond the anticipated six to nine weeks.
I laughed when Steve said, “Mom, the way things are going I will be here until June!”
Fortunately, we like each other! And of course, Steve is welcome to remain in our home for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Please don’t think I am trying to diminish the severity of the current pandemic crises. I am known for using the mechanism of humor to reduce personal stress. Life isn’t easy. Caring for loved ones with cancer requires emotional fortitude, empathy, dedication, strength, and patience (for yourself and others). Knowing that this situation is impacting our lives, I thought it best to provide some coping strategies while social distancing.
Accept It: One of the first things you need to do for yourself is accept what is happening. Your loved one has cancer. You are sad, angry, afraid, and frustrated. Accept and identify your emotions. Why, you may ask? Well, when we accept our emotions and situation we can allow ourselves to move on to other tasks. Ask yourself, what is important today?
For example: “I am a bag of nerves. It really breaks my heart to see my daughter dealing with her cancer and being stuck living with me. I wish I could control the situation. But I know I can’t! She gets mad when I ask too many questions and walks away from me. She senses my anxiety. I need to come to terms with my fears about tomorrow and accept my lack of control. I will enjoy my time with her today and in turn improve our daily interactions.
Find Joy: So you are stuck in the house with your loved one during this time of social isolation. What can you do to bring a little joy and happiness to each other? What is it about this time that brings a smile to your face and that of your loved one?
Example: “At least two to three times a week we play Scrabble together.
We don’t play for points. We laugh at our goofy/silly words.”
Me Time: Can you carve out a little time for yourself on a daily basis? Being a caregiver can be emotionally and physically draining. What do you do when you need to escape? Do you love to exercise? Walk? Read?
Example: “I love to read, but paying for books gets expensive. Fortunately I have e-library card and can read books for free! When my daughter naps, instead of worrying about washing clothes, I sit in my comfortable chair and read.”
Find Stillness: Some of you might consider this “Me Time”…but I don’t. The way we take time to go emotionally inward will vary from person to person. Some of us pray. Some of us meditate. Some of us sit quietly and listen to music. What’s important is that you are tuning into your body and mind so you can relax and just be.
Example: “Ask your loved one to leave you alone for 5 – 7 minutes (whatever works for you). In fact, set the timer. Turn off all notifications on your electronic devices.
Locate the room or space in your home where you can be alone.
Practice Breath Sensing.
Sit Comfortably. Keep a blanket on hand in case you feel cold.
Gradually and intentionally inhale to the count of three. And then hold the breath for two seconds.
And then gradually exhale to the count of four. Repeat.
Practice the Breath Sensing exercise about five to ten times and then return to normal breathing.
It’s okay if you lose count.
There is no right or wrong here. Do what feels comfortable for you.
Take your time.
Relax. Be at peace.”
Reach Out To Others: Now this might be a challenge during COVID-19. We just can’t hop in our vehicle and go for a visit to the local coffee shop. Do you or your loved one need to interact with another human? Perhaps you can get some family or friends to help out by joining in a group “zoom” chat session. Both of you need “time” away from each other.
Example: “Have your loved one take advantage of Elephants and Tea’s Happy Hours on Fridays at 5 pm EST through the month of May?”
Check Out Resources: I am certain that you have more on your mind than my simple suggestions. Please know that Elephants and Tea has a great COVID-19 Resource Section to assist you and your loved ones. Here is the link: https://www.elephantsandtea.com/covid-19/
Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health: These are stressful times. Please be mindful of your alcohol and drug usage. Talk to your physician or counselor/social worker with your concerns.
There is a saying that goes something like this: “If I am thinking about how much I drink then I must be drinking too much.” The literature states that women should limit themselves to one drink a day, and men two drinks a day. So, how are you doing?
These are challenging times, and I hope we can get through this together. So be kind to yourself and in turn you will be kind to others.
All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer. If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you! Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.