In 1998, my mother Bonnie was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, and in 2001 she was stricken with liver cancer. As a nurse, my mother was the one providing care for others. She was even a caregiver for her mother, my Grandma Bessie, before she passed away in 1997 at the age of 94. But with her own cancer diagnosis, my mom was the one who needed a caregiver. She came to live with my family while she underwent surgery and treatment for both cancer battles. It was fantastic and a joy to have her right there with me – something I would never change – but it was also incredibly stressful, emotionally and physically draining, and unnerving. Caregivers need their own unique support from family and friends. Here is what I consider to be five of the best ways to be a caregiver’s cheerleader.
1. Stronger Together; Help Build a Support Team.Caregiving can be relentless, exhausting and overwhelming. Every caregiver needs a short list of close friends and family they can lean on for help. Take the first step of helping them build a short list of “cheerleaders” and make sure your name is at the top of that list. Use the list of names and divvy up daily tasks and errands by creating a schedule. My loved ones consistently delivered meals, purchased groceries, spent time with my kids, walked the dog, helped with yard and house work, and had specific “visit mom” times. Once it’s on a schedule, it’s less overwhelming. A resource like the Carry Crew can equip you with the tools to build a crew of “cheerleaders” who can provide this practical help.
2. Navigate the Unknown.There is never one ‘right’ answer to anything. For most, the act of caregiving is uncharted territory, which for me was very unnerving – I like to have answers. Being a supportive sounding board can help any caregiver navigate important decisions and issues.
For most, the act of caregiving is uncharted territory.There is a wealth of information and resources online. However, sifting through all that information and researching the best resources can be daunting for a caregiver who most likely has a job and family of their own. Do the research for them and provide a list of the best information and tools that can help with their situation. The Caregiver Action Network is a great place to start.
3. Take the Focus Off Physical Care.Help the caregiver focus on more than just physical care. Some of my favorite moments caring for my mother were when my friends got to know her. The shared stories, laughter and camaraderie between my friends and mother were so special. Those times were not about the physical care, it was about loving relationships. The connection between my friends and my mother made asking for help that much easier. It also became a wonderful shared experience between my mother and our “cheerleaders.” Today we often reminisce, with a smile, about the shared moments we had with my mother.
4. Help the Caregiver Step Away and Find Humor.Provide caregivers with some respite and help them step away to find the humor in life’s struggles. Regardless of how strong and positive caregivers try to be, daily life can involve sadness and suffering.
Laughter truly is the best medicine.By taking time with friends doing the things I enjoyed, I found myself laughing more, which in turn brought more laughter into caring for my mother. Laughter has also been found to reduce pain and stress, as well as release endorphins which can bring positive changes to one’s mindset. There is even an Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor that provides resources on how to practice and promote healthy humor and laughter.
5. Ignite the Cheering Section.Give caregivers the confidence to openly share their hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, and everything in between. Putting words around experiences and feelings is not always easy, but it is cathartic.
Opening up to those who care ignites a cheering section, creating a caring and supportive community.I’m not a writer. I’m a software engineer. But that didn’t stop me from starting my mother’s CaringBridge website when she was first diagnosed in 1998 and re-activated it again in 2001. Taking a little time to record my feelings and connect with my friends and family gave me strength and hope. Now, I have a permanent record of my time with my mother that also captured the love people had for her.