Caregiver Primer: Breathe, Learn, Share
When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, it can be a big shock to both of you. Yes, that’s quite an understatement. As a caregiver for my husband with prostate cancer (and daughter when she was diagnosed with breast cancer), I was shocked and overwhelmed just hearing the word cancer.
Just breathe, just breathe
I think that's probably a very common reaction for most people who hear that word used for someone they love, or for themselves. I told myself "just breathe, just breathe.” Literally for many days all I could do was tell myself to “just breathe.”
Eventually it hit me that while yes, I had to keep breathing, I needed to do other things as well to help us prepare for the challenges ahead. As patients and caregivers know, any cancer diagnosis brings its own set of challenges.
Starting research on prostate cancer
I’ve always been a reader and anytime I wanted to learn about something or improve my skills, I read as much as I could about the topic. As a child, I loved going to the library to do research for school (yes, I was a nerd and guess I still am). Just the sight of hundreds of books lined up on a shelf and being able to dig through the card index file was something I looked forward to (again, nerd!).
Once again I had to put on my research hat, but it’s much easier these days with the accessibility of online library materials, resources, patient support sites, cancer websites, online chats, patient navigators, and so on.
Just the variety of resources available can also be overwhelming, but like everything else, I learned to take it one step at a time and found which were the most helpful and credible resources for me. I learned I needed to be discerning as to what I believed and trusted and what might be questionable.
The power of shared experiences
I also found it helpful to talk to a friend whose spouse was diagnosed with prostate cancer around the same time my husband was diagnosed. While every cancer is different, I still feel we can all still share our experiences, suggestions, encouragement. That’s part of what this site is all about.
I may have been in a unique situation since someone I worked with was married to a prostate cancer patient. He had a similar diagnosis, same type of surgery, same post-surgery treatment, same medications. It was helpful and supportive to have someone I could speak with freely about what my husband and I were going through and what she and her husband had experienced. We shared what we, as caregivers, were doing, and what we learned didn’t work for us.
On top of that, and equally important or maybe even more important to me, we shared our faith that God would give us the courage and ability to help our husbands in any way we could. And He did.
Tips for a new caregiver
I would encourage anyone who finds him or herself in a caregiver role to first just breathe as I did. Sometimes it’s the only thing we can do at the time. Allow yourself to take a moment, a day, a week - whatever it takes to gather yourself and be ready to go forward.
Second, equip yourself with knowledge. It’s everywhere. And while doing those - breathing and learning - find support. No one needs to be on this journey alone.
Do you have ways of managing your mindset for big decisions?