Cancer caregivers center their lives on caring for a loved one who has cancer. That is the definition of a cancer caregiver. Even if they are not working outside the home or simultaneously caring for other family members such as young children or elderly relatives, cancer caregivers are under tremendous stress. The stress of being a cancer caregiver can often lead to anxiety and depression.
Cancer Caregivers Can Gain By Giving to Others
It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that cancer caregivers should make it a priority to try to find ways to give back. But being a compassionate member of social groups – clubs, support groups, congregations – can be central to living a meaningful life. Research highlights how aligning oneself with a cause larger than oneself and practicing reciprocity can have a positive effect, adding to a feeling of purpose, well-being and meaning in life. Studies show that helping others can be more beneficial than receiving help. Although caring for family members is woven into the daily fabric of the lives of cancer caregivers, studies find that taking time to give to others in the community as part of an ethic of volunteerism can reap rewards in terms of improved mental and physical health.
Evidence of volunteerism’s physical effects can be found in a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University, published in Psychology and Aging. Adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. High blood pressure is an important indicator of health because it contributes to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
In other words, in giving you shall receive.
For Cancer Caregivers, Giving Back Can Be Empowering
As a cancer caregiver, sometimes it may feel as though not a lot is in your control. A major change has happened in your life that you did not ask for and did not anticipate. Reaching out to others as someone who gives help not just receives it can be empowering. It can give you back some sense of control and reconnect you with a sense of strength in yourself.
During the course of your being a cancer caregiver you may have been the recipient of acts of kindness from people around you. You may have received gifts of food, flowers, cards and phone calls from people you know. At the cancer center or hospital, social workers, nurses and other cancer caregivers you may have met perhaps helped you with advice and suggestions based on their experience.
Now you may be the one with experience to share. A kind of reciprocity often drives and characterizes patient and caregiver communities: when others give, one is compelled to give back for the benefit of the whole. Even in the midst of a crisis, you may experience an important sense of well-being borne out of a deep appreciation for the giving and sharing between you and other cancer caregivers. Generosity is a powerful thing. When you feel that you can give not just take, you feel empowered. You are not alone. There are others as frightened and worried as you. You can help them as others have helped you. It’s a good feeling and in the midst of all that you are dealing with as a cancer caregiver, it is good to feel good about something.
Ways Cancer Caregivers Can Give Back Now
As a cancer caregiver, you may feel thankful for the care you and your loved one have been receiving. You want to give back by supporting other cancer patients as well as the organizations and clinicians who provide cancer treatment. Or you may want to raise awareness about the type of cancer your family is coping with. You may want to give back by raising money to fund research to help scientists find a cure.
You can simply contact your local cancer center and donate money. However, if you decide that you want to do something more, there are a number of other ways as a cancer caregiver you can make a difference.
Volunteer as a Mesothelioma Patient Advocate – As cancer caregivers know all too well, a family member’s mesothelioma diagnosis is frightening. Stepping out of that fear to help navigate the path from diagnosis through treatment can be a big challenge. Who can better to help a family with a newly diagnosed mesothelioma patient through this process than someone who has already been there? Check with your cancer treatment center for mentoring programs for cancer caregivers to help with new patients or caregivers. You may be able to serve as a sympathetic ear as well as practical helpful suggestions.
Lotsa Helping Hands is a website that may be helpful to you and other caregivers in your support network. Launched by an exhausted husband and dad after his wife lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2005 as a way to help other caregivers, the site provides a help calendar where volunteers can sign up for tasks that provide caregiver support including meals for the family, rides to medical appointments, and visits. Coordinators can post tasks that require help so volunteers can easily see what’s needed. Regular reminders are sent to volunteers so that no one forgets their commitments.
Start or Participate in A Cancer Fundraiser – All cancer centers have an ongoing need for funding for research and pay for resources for cancer patients and their families. Check with your oncologist’s office or local hospital to learn about events being held to raise support. There are many annual events that always need participants and volunteers.
Many of these events allow you to be sponsored by others, so whether you dance, walk, run or bike to fight cancer; your contributions can be multiplied by friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members.
Sign Up Genius is a multi-purpose customizable site for organizing groups and coordinating activities of any kind. It was started in 2005 as an easy way to coordinate and organize multiple types of groups including kids’ sports teams and church groups. If you are trying to hold a community event such as a fun run or neighborhood garage sale to raise funds and awareness for mesothelioma, this site could provide the help you need to get started.
Write a Book – Share your experience and expertise with other cancer caregivers by writing a book. Cancer caregiver Debbie Clemmons wrote a book covering the progression of her husband Randy’s mesothelioma from the beginning of his treatment in 2007 to his death at age 54 in 2009. They were my clients and I was glad to be asked to contribute a chapter to this helpful book. “On the pages of this book is our story of how we grappled with mesothelioma. I have a day by day; play by play experience of what we went through. There is also a lot of information on pain management,” Debbie states on the book cover. You too can contribute a book of your experiences to the literature on this important topic.