As Breast Cancer Awareness month continues to conquer October, the pink seems to flush out an important person in a patient’s healing process: their caregiver. Being a breast cancer patient’s caregiver — or a caregiver for any patient for that matter — can be an extremely stressful role. They are often stretched physically, emotionally and financially trying to provide for someone who is suffering.
A caregiver can handle everything from taking the person in need of care to chemotherapy to making sure the bills are paid on time. He or she might be waking up early to bathe and groom their patient then staying up late at night to give them medicine and clean. The caregiver lives every second of the ups and downs of their loved one’s health.
In college, I worked as a nurse assistant and my job was to do all the personal care activities for individuals who were disabled, very ill, or recovering from surgery. I only had to dedicate a couple of hours to each patient. It’s a whole different ball game when this is your life day in and day out. Here are a few things we can do to help superhero caregivers:
Give them a day off
This is probably the most helpful thing you can do for a caregiver — give the care yourself. Volunteer to spend your day with the person who is sick and send the caregiver home. You might need to ask a few times before both people agree, but it can be an incredible and humbling experience for you. Moreover, it can give the caregiver some time to themselves. If it works for everyone, you can set up a rotation where you come in once or twice a month to relieve the regular caregiver.
Ask them how you can help
If it’s too personal for you to take the caregiver’s role for a day, you can always help the caregiver themselves. Ask them what they need to get done but might not have time to do themselves. You don’t need to go all Extreme Home Makeover; you can tutor their kids, take the car to get cleaned, get their dry cleaning done or help them respond to emails about the patient’s condition. Even if the caregiver does not give you a specific request, there are some things that everyone needs, like a clean home and a good meal.
Lend a Listening ear
Sometimes people just want to talk. The best thing you can do is listen. Imagine dedicating most your energy to one person for long, trying hours. Let the caregiver know you’re available to listen or to take their mind off the situation. Take them to a spa or to get their nails done and help them remember their well-being matters too.
Caregiving can be a full-time job. Caregivers often experience interruptions at work ranging from missed days to early retirement to support the patient. Even if you yourself don’t have the resources to financially support the caregiver, you can organize a fundraiser. Talk with the caregiver’s church leaders or place of employment. With permission from the caregiver, use social media to put the word out. I’m not talking about Ice Bucket Challenge #2, but a simple hashtag can go a long way.
Not quite ready to start your own fundraiser? Here are three organizations where you can send a donation to improve the lives of caregivers nationwide:
- American Association of Caregiving Youth: an organization supporting young people who take care of their parents or grandparents
- Family Caregiver Alliance: donations go toward improving education and counseling for caregivers
- National Alliance for Caregiving: advocacy and research group for caregivers
Although breast cancer awareness month is coming to a close, people will continue to need care — including caregivers!