Precious and Vital
Thank God for the support team and the caregivers. No one can run a bell lap without you – crawl may be, but not run. You are the true friends; you are ever so precious. You are the encouragers, the listeners, the pacesetters, the nurses, medics, coaches and counselors. You offer the certainty that there will be a witness to their lives – that they are valued.
You will find yourselves collectively on the track, running the lap right alongside the cancer patient. You have got to keep up or lead; if you fall behind, you’ll slow the runner down. So, you must treat this run as if it were your own bell lap. And that can’t hurt. You’ll be in better shape if and when your own turn comes if you have run a practice lap. Until then, the rest of your life will be richer for having done so.
Even though you are not the patient, you may go through some or all of Dr.Kubler-Ross’ stages of reaction to terminal illness with them or on your own: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, and depression before reaching the acceptance that allows you to run free. Be alert to what each stage might look like; be intentional in dealing with each one so that you can help the cancer patient do the same. Every stage is disconcerting, but living through them is easier with a companion. Be that companion, but don’t be mistaken into thinking that’s all you are. If you can really imagine yourself facing your own death, you may be able to take your own spiritual journey to new depths and heights, and become more than a caregiver -- maybe a virtual runner, maybe a pacesetter.
One person cannot do it all. An effective caregiver must marshal a team early and keep every member involved, even if only in small ways, right from the beginning. It is far better to have a few of your teammates complaining about riding the bench on the sidelines early in the game than to be shorthanded going into the fourth quarter.
One thing that is often overlooked but that you can and should do early on is to construct a care plan that will enable everyone to stay the course. Compassion fatigue is very real and affects every caregiver sooner or later. It is hard to see it coming. It grows insidiously and chips away at your resolve to do what you have intended. The longer the course, the rougher it gets, the more you are needed, the more likely that burnout will take its toll. The antidote to this is to make your care plan specifically provide for relief for yourself by planning and requiring rest, diversion and refreshment. Above all, don’t feel guilty about providing for your own and other caregivers’ needs. This is essential if you are to be effective and persevere.
Caregivers are no better prepared for their role than the sick are prepared for theirs. The challenge for both is to keep the care-giving and the illness in their proper places. This is hardest when your efforts go unnoticed, invalidated and unrelieved. You need a team to validate and support each other.There are multiple fine caregiver resources http://HelpForCancerCaregivers.org, http://CaringInfo.org, http://CancerSupportCommunity.org to guide and encourage you all.
Be intentional about taking care of yourself for the patient’s sake. Take time-outs -- run, ride, read, walk, nap. Do all the things that feed your own soul and fill your love tank so you can be and do your best. Pace yourself by sharing the load with other team members. It will be richer for everyone. Every race has a home stretch and every care-giving team needs to be fit and prepared for it; there are always unforeseeable challenges.
And don’t be surprised or feel guilty if the person you are caring for turns the tables and winds up caring for YOU. Let it be. It may be their way of thanking you or redressing past disharmonies when they can’t say the more difficult words.