Calls and e-mails coming into the Melanoma International Foundation navigation services from patients needing guidance and support are often initiated by a caregiver. The caregiver role has become increasingly important for comprehensive cancer care! Caregivers tend to keep a level head during this often emotionally charged time and, therefore, can keep better track of medications and side effects, as well as the general status of the patient.
The psychological support provided by caregivers is vital to the patient, too. The Melanoma International Foundation’s primary mission is to empower these caregivers with knowledge of the disease and with therapy options backed by evidence-based science. This enables caregivers to work more effectively with the medical providers. It also makes the caregiver’s job a lot less stressful, since there are fewer surprises for all those who are involved, when they’re fully educated. Patient navigators are, in essence, caregivers too, so this applies to that profession as well.
Having stressed the important role that a caregiver serves, also keep in mind that serving as a caregiver is sometimes harder than being the patient. Often, the caregiver loses charge of his or her life, and the patient’s illness seems to always take center stage. Caregivers need to remember to be good to themselves and take credit for their hard work.
Caregivers need their own space to vent, and to share their daily frustrations and victories. They also need to tend to their own needs. The following tips can help a caregiver during this time:
1. Watch for signs of depression in yourself and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it. This can include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or unhappiness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so that even small tasks take extra effort
- Changes in appetite: this often includes reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain occur in some people, too
2. When people offer to help accept the offer and suggest specific things that they can do. With family members, develop a plan of care and assign specific tasks. Get organized with a running list or a spreadsheet of what needs to be done.
3. There’s a difference between caring and doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence.
4. Trust your instincts. Most of the time they’ll lead you in the right direction.
5. Grieve for your losses, and then allow yourself to dream new dreams. Remember that the person you’re caring for is very appreciative of your care, no matter how he or she expresses it. If they are enduring pain or depression, it may be hard for them to express gratitude, but don’t doubt for a minute that your work is very important.
Melanoma International Foundation
American Cancer Society
Cancer National Institute
A full list of depression symptoms is available at Mayo Clinic