Saturday, August 2, 2008

Living with Cancer - The Carer's perspective.

Most of us at some point in our lives are affected by cancer – either ourselves or a diagnosis of cancer in a loved one, a friend or a work colleague. A diagnosis of cancer is devastating and will bring a range of emotional reaction with it – bewilderment, anger, grief to name some of the more obvious ones. Thankfully there are fantastic people researchers, doctors, nurses and carers working in oncology & a number of support groups too – The Irish cancer society & Arc are two such organisations. However, I’m writing in relation to a different group - the people that look after the cancer patients or people living with any long term illness for that matter. Husbands, wives, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, life long friends. The people whose lives are also turned up side down when someone they love is facing a serious illness.

When some one you love is diagnosed with a serious illness, many will have the natural reaction to jump right in to help - putting their own lives on hold. Some on the other hand will bury their head in the sand and leave it to someone else to cope with. Others help out of a sense of duty. Living with long term illness will often tear families apart as emotion; anger & resentment run high.

No one really stops to consider the person who is doing the emotional caretaking of the patient – trying to keep their spirits up, being in good form while themselves being under huge stress by being the caretaker and seeing someone you love being so ill. It’s like as if they are not allowed a voice after all they don’t have the illness! Maybe, it’s an Irish thing whereby we’d feel guilty if we complained or we feel we have to suffer in silence.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, suppressed emotion will manifest itself somewhere in our physiology. If you continually live with unreleased stress and pent up emotion the chances are sooner or later you to, will get sick.

I’ve recently spent some time with a friend who is a carer of her an elderly parent, and naturally she is distressed to see her loved one ill. However she had additional worries of single parenting, finances, caring for children & work. Yet she wasn’t complaining. When I suggested, that what she was going through was very difficult the answer was always the same ‘ oh, but it’s much worse for…..’ . When I put it to her, that yes, it is horrendous to be facing a life of illness, that did not in any way lessen how her life has also been seriously affected and that it’s OK to admit you feel frustrated. She was a little taken aback at first – it hadn’t occurred to her that she had ‘a right’ to feel this way because she wasn’t the one in the hospital bed. However, she eventually started to talk about how sometimes she feels like screaming and the next moment she feels like crying. Her emotions were a whirlwind of fear, sorrow, resentment & anger. She was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and in her heart. Once she’d ranted for a while then shed some long over due tears, it all eventually gave way to much needed laughter.

I personally find visiting hospitals hard – I feel very drained of energy when I leave. I’m lucky, in that with an Ayurvedic lifestyle and my Life skills couching – I’m trained to deal with stressful situations but as the saying goes....doctors make the worst patients…….seriously though, I have found practicing what I preach an immense benefit. For me, meditation works a treat. If I meditate for 20 minutes before facing the hospital I feel protected from being drained energetically and I hope bringing with me a sense of peace that the ill person can tap in to too. I also breathe – ‘Don’t we all!’ I hear you say but I use a relaxing breathing technique that can be used during the car journey, in the lift etc. That’s what works for me. If you are reading this and you are someone who is looking after a loved one, then I send you a big hug and urge you to acknowledge to yourself what a wonderful job you are doing. Release any negative emotion you maybe feeling – if that means thumping a cushion in private then do it.

Treat yourself too – take a long warm bubble bath with a few drops of lavender oil. Listen to your favourite music. It is not selfish to have time out – it’s essential, even if it's only 30 minutes. If you don’t love and care for yourself, you won’t have anything left to give to the people you love and care for.

My friend knows I am writing about this and she hopes it encourages someone in a similar situation to herself to allow themselves to be human. Her loved is bravely living with cancer for 13 years .

In love & light



A Journey Well Taken: Life After Loss said...

I know when I was taking care of my husband, I couldn't think about taking time out. He was ill for eleven months with esophagus cancer, and my focus was almost entirely on keeping him comfortable, taking care of anything he needed. Many days I felt incredibly helpless, but in the end, we just do what needs to be done, out of love, hope and sometimes by rote. Caretaking is difficult, but I would not have done it any other way for the man I loved, and the father of my boys. elaine

Siobhan McKenna said...

Thank you for sharing your experience Elaine and taking the time to comment. Best of luck with your book and continuing journey Siobhan