Taking on the role of primary caregiver to a loved one with cancer is a huge undertaking, yet there are many caregivers who will not ask for any assistance and may even refuse it when it is offered.
For those who wish to help a family dealing with cancer, it can be difficult to understand why they would choose to go it alone, rather than ask for support.
It must be remembered that no two families will react to a cancer diagnosis in the same way, everyone has their own reasons for acting the way they do.
Why Caregivers Don’t Ask for Help
Why are some people reluctant to ask for help, even when they need it? There are several reasons.
For some, especially those who like to keep their personal affairs private, it can seem invasive to let other people know what is going on in their lives.
Lack of Control
No longer having control over what is happening in your life is a devastating experience, and some people may become depressed as a result. Depression can debilitate a person to the extent that they are barely able to function. Many people who are depressed do not reach out for help because it is too painful to talk about how they are feeling.
Some people are very proud of the fact that have always been able to look after themselves and have never asked anyone for help. They take on the challenges of cancer in the same way that they have taken on any other challenge in their life, and will resist asking for help even if they need it.
Sense of Responsibility
In some cases, a caregiver’s reluctance to reach out for help could come from their sense of responsibility or duty to the person they are caring for. They may feel that if they reach out for help, they are shirking their responsibility.
Sign of Weakness
Asking for help could be seen by some as a sign of weakness — an indication that they are not up to the task. They may even feel that family members and friends will judge them if they admit that they are not coping. These caregivers take on the whole burden themselves as a way of proving to everyone that they are capable of doing it.
Not Wanting to Cause Trouble
Not wanting to be a bother or a burden to anyone, some caregivers are reluctant ask members of the family for assistance.
Condition of Their Home or Appearance
Caring for a loved one with cancer is a full-time job, and it is often difficult to stay on top of the housework. Letting people into the home, especially at times when it may not be looking its best, can make people feel very uncomfortable. In addition, they may feel embarrassed about others seeing them in a disheveled state.
How Others Do Tasks
Everyone has their own unique way of doing things, as well as their own sense of order within their home, and though it may seem trivial, it can become very irritating when someone does things differently. Due to this, caregivers may decide not to ask for help and to do everything themselves so that things can continue to be done in the same way that they are accustomed to.
Not being able to cope when a loved one needs them the most can result in a caregiver feeling guilty about their own needs.
Sometimes it is the patient and not the caregiver who determines what will be done in regard to their care. The patient may not want someone else fussing over them nor wish for anyone else to know their business. This can make it difficult for the caregiver, especially when they wish to ask for help but don’t want to go against the wishes of the patient.
What Caregivers Need
When it comes to helping someone care for a loved one with cancer, it is a delicate situation and one that requires a lot of sensitivity and trust.
The first thing caregivers need is for people to understand that they are feeling very vulnerable and way out of their comfort zone. They are also deeply concerned about their ability to help their loved one cope with the pain and symptoms that are associated with cancer, and are most likely feeling quite helpless and frightened of what the future holds. These feelings sometimes make it hard for them to express their needs, and their refusal to accept help is often misinterpreted.
To Be Treated the Same as Before
Cancer changes what is happening to a person; it does not change who the person is. The same could be said for caregivers. Taking on the role of caregiver does not mean taking on a different personality. Caregivers are the same people they have always been, and they want and need for family members and friends to act normally around them.
When I was caring for my husband, Brian, during his mesothelioma illness, one of my friends said to me, “I don’t know how to act around you and Brian anymore.” My answer to her was, “Act normally; this is exactly what Brian and I are trying to do.”
Acting normally around me and Brian was by far the most helpful and appreciated thing that anyone could have done for us at that time.
To Be Heard
Caregivers want to talk to someone who allows them to acknowledge the pain and suffering that they are feeling rather than being encouraged not to think about it, not to voice it — or even worse, being offered a platitude.
Information about Cancer and Treatments
Caregivers need to know where they can find out more about the type of cancer their loved one is suffering from and what they can do to help them. They also need to talk to someone who has cared for someone with cancer and understands what they are going through.
A Relationship with the Doctor
Caregivers need to be respected by the medical profession for the valuable work that they do and need to be involved in decision-making about their loved one’s medical treatments.
Involvement in family gatherings and social outings with friends is very much needed by both the cancer patient and the caregiver. Having the opportunity to focus on someone else is a welcome diversion, and it is very helpful if no one talks about cancer during these occasions.
One of the most important things a caregiver needs is to remain in good health so that they can continue to care for their loved one. Sadly, their own health is often the last thing on a caregiver’s mind.
I will be on vacation, so this is my last blog until I return at the beginning of October.