Calls and emails coming into the Melanoma International navigation services are often initiated by a caregiver. Their role has become increasingly important for comprehensive patient oncology 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 is vital to the patient too. MIF’s primary mission is empowering these caregivers with knowledge of the disease and therapy options backed by evidence based science. This enables caregivers to work more effectively with the medical providers. It also makes their job a lot less stressful since there are less surprises for all involved when they’re fully educated. (Note: patient navigators are in essence caregivers too, so this applies to that profession as well)
Having stressed the important role 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 their 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 share their daily frustrations and victories. And they need to tend to their own needs.
The following tips can help a caregiver during this time.
• 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 efforts, changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people. See http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/symptoms/con-20032977 for a full list)
• 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 spreadsheet of what needs to be done.
• There’s a difference between caring and doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence
• Trust your instincts. Most of the time they’ll lead you in the right direction.
• Grieve for your losses and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.
Remember that the person you are caring for is very appreciative of your care no matter how they express 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.