Cancer & Caregiving

Managing Caregiver Stress When Someone You Love Has Mesothelioma

Written By:
Jul 15, 2013
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Written By: Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC,
July 15, 2013

A caregiver is a family member, spouse or friend who cares for and supports a person while they are sick. Unlike a nurse, doctor or other professional caregiver, a family caregiver’s job is 24 hours a day/7 days a week. They do what they do out of love for or friendship with the person who has mesothelioma.

Many times, someone who is sick has a primary caregiver and other friends or family who assist the primary caregiver as needed. Anyone who cares for and helps in any way to care for the loved one is called a caregiver.

A Caregiver’s Duties

The list of things that caregivers do seems endless. There are practical things that need taking care of, like driving the patient to their appointments, keeping track of medications, helping them shower when they are weak and cooking for them.

Then there are the household duties that the person who is sick can no longer do, like mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, paying bills, doing laundry and cleaning. Caregivers usually have to take on those household duties.

Perhaps the most difficult aspects of being a caregiver are the emotional and social challenges. Caregivers spend a lot of time worrying about their sick loved one, and this usually affects a caregiver’s sleep patterns.

Usually, the primary caregiver takes on the role of communicator about how the patient is doing to all of the patient’s family and friends. It is important to note that on top of all these caregiver responsibilities, the caregiver has their own responsibilities such as their job and household tasks.

It is very easy to see how a caregiver can become overstressed. We call this “caregiver stress.”

How to Manage Caregiver Stress

Stress is a term that is used in many ways. When we feel like our to-do list exceeds our time, energy or resources to get them all done, we feel distress — which is another word for negative stress.

Symptoms of chronic distress can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Worry
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent crying
  • Poor sleep
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Change in appetite

When a loved one has mesothelioma, caregivers can serve for months or even years, and caregiver stress can become chronic.

The first step in managing stress is to recognize the presence of caregiver stress in yourself or in those whom you care about. Many times, this is not as easy as it seems. Caregivers, by definition, are used to worrying about and paying attention to their loved one with mesothelioma, and may be in a habit of putting their own needs on the back burner.

There are many things that caregivers can do to reduce the distress that they feel. Accepting offers of help is perhaps the most beneficial. Many times, when someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, neighbors, family and friends say, “Let me know if there is anything that I can do to help.”

At diagnosis or at the beginning of treatment, these offers of assistance may not be needed. However, weeks and months of treatment can cause the caregiver to feel fatigued and less able to manage the day-to-day stress of caregiving.

It is important to reach out and ask for help from those people who offered. Ideally, when someone offers help, specific things are offered. Specific examples of help would be, “I can walk your dog for you.” or “I can drive you to your doctor’s appointments.” This way, patients and caregivers know whom to ask for certain kinds of help. If someone offers to help with anything, assign a task or a duty that would help the most.

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care for the caregiver is equally important in managing caregiver stress. When someone you love has mesothelioma, it is all too easy to allow your own physical, social and emotional needs to take a backseat to those of the patient. However, over time this is not a healthy habit to get into.

Many caregivers say, “How can I go get a haircut or have lunch with my friend, when my loved one is at home, sick after chemo?” It is very important to recognize that activities that may seem selfish are the very things that keep us balanced, physically and emotionally.

Taking time to go for a walk by yourself, going to the doctor for an annual checkup or visiting family are rejuvenating and help us to re-charge our caregiver “batteries.” This allows us to keep doing what we want to do, which is to continue to take care of our loved one with mesothelioma.

Taking special care of your friend, spouse or family member when they are sick is challenging, physically and emotionally, yet many caregivers say that they appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate their love and concern for someone so close to them.

Caregiver stress can potentially affect all caregivers, and it’s vital to recognize the symptoms of it so that caregivers don’t end up getting sick — physically or emotionally — themselves.

This material was shared in the recent mesothelioma virtual support group.

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