Caring for a mesothelioma patient can be both challenging and rewarding – sometimes in the same moment. You appreciate the time you spend with your loved one. You want to make sure he or she has the best care possible, that all needs are met. Still, the burden of being responsible for another person’s well-being can be heavy. It’s easy for a cancer caregiver to feel the pressure to fulfill their roll and the stress of the responsibility of care for a loved one.
It’s important to recognize the signs of cancer caregiver stress and implement appropriate steps to take care of yourself. If you are exhausted, burned out, or sick, you won’t be able to take care of your loved one.
Causes of Cancer Caregiver Stress
Three quarters of caregivers are family or friends rather than professionals. Caring for someone with a serious illness like mesothelioma when you don’t have medical training can be exhausting and, at times, frightening. When your loved one has a health crisis, you are the first line of defense. You may find yourself facing choices and situations that you aren’t well equipped to handle. As a result, you feel overwhelmed by caregiving or guilty for not doing more.
Many factors contribute to cancer caregiver stress. Mesothelioma can strain your family budget, so you have to scramble to figure out how to pay all the bills while also providing 24/7 care. If you are also holding down a job (or two) while giving care at home, you can easily get frazzled and overtired.
As a cancer caregiver, you don’t get down time. You may be called on to provide support at any hour of the day or night. The demands of your role can wear you down.
On top of this, it is harder to take care of yourself. Your normal routines are disrupted. You can’t easily get out to the gym or meet with friends or go to a movie.
In addition, the stress of mesothelioma itself can lead to distress. The knowledge that mesothelioma is incurable and that you don’t know how long your loved one will survive are sources of anxiety and worry.
Signs of Cancer Caregiver Stress
You may not realize that you are stressed. You get up every day, determined to be the best cancer caregiver you can be. You jump up to give your loved one everything they ask for. You spend your free time on the computer, researching additional resources. The next day, you get up and do the same thing all over again. There are good days and bad days, but you feel that you are doing okay.
Then one day, you find yourself yelling at the neighbor because she parked an inch into your driveway. This is probably a sign that you are experiencing cancer caregiver stress.
It’s important to be alert to the signs of cancer caregiver stress, so you can take steps to take care of yourself. The worst outcome is for you to become burnt out. Then who will take care of your loved one?
Here are some additional signs of cancer caregiver stress:
- Neglecting your own health. This can include not eating well or feeling that you don’t have time to go to a doctor when you feel sick.
- Anger at the mesothelioma patient in your life. You might find yourself resenting your loved one. Place the blame for this on cancer caregiver stress.
- General feelings of anger. You may get irritated often or feel unreasonably angry about small things.
- You may be getting up multiple times in the night to help the mesothelioma patient in your life or stress might be causing you to lose sleep.
- Abusing alcohol or other substances. Whether it’s a bag of cookies or a pack of cigarettes or a six-pack of beer, it’s very tempting to drown your worries. You might even turn to prescription medication for relief.
- Changes in your weight. If your weight goes up or down significantly, this could be a sign of stress.
- Physical pain. You might feel your stress in your body, with headaches, backaches, or other types of pain.
Knowing the signs of cancer caregiver stress is the first step to dealing with it. When you recognize the symptoms, you can take steps to reduce your stress before it takes a toll on your health and well-being.
Tips for Relieving Cancer Caregiver Stress
The most important thing to remember as a cancer caregiver is that you don’t have to do it alone – and you probably can’t do it alone. Caring for a mesothelioma patient is a big job. You’ll need to ask for help and support.
Look for cancer caregiver support groups in your area. Sharing your worries with people who understand your situation can reduce your stress. You may also learn about additional support resources from members of your caregiver support group.
Ask friends and family to help out. You might be the head of the care team, but it should be a team. Many of the people in your network can contribute something and every contribution, no matter how small, will reduce your stress. Perhaps one friend can bring you a home-cooked meal once a week and another can sit with your loved one for an hour so you can get a haircut. Ask for assistance with driving to doctor’s appointments, mowing the lawn, or taking care of the mesothelioma patient for a while so you can take a break. Your life is too busy. It’s okay to share the chores.
Don’t forget about hospice. Hospice care is available to patients across the United States. It is covered under Medicare and many insurance plans. Hospice care usually starts when mesothelioma treatments stop working and the patient is put on palliative care. In addition to home visits and help with pain medication, hospice can provide respite care. During respite, a hospice worker will care for your loved one temporarily so you can rest. Respite can be for a few hours or a few days. Ask your local hospice provider what kind of respite is available to you.
Take care of your own health. When you get on an airplane, the safety demonstration tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. As a cancer caregiver, the same principle applies to you. You have to put your own health first so you can continue to care for your loved one.
Reach out for professional help. Get financial counseling if money is a worry. Talk to a social worker, counselor, or clergy member about your feelings. You don’t have to figure everything out by yourself. Advice from a professional can help you see your situation differently and learn new ways to reduce your stress.
Try to find small instances of joy in life. Take time to try to cheer them up and share a laugh or old story with your mesothelioma patient. Connect with friends. Find something to enjoy as best you can.