Recently, I heard about Cameron Von St. James and his family, and was completely blown away by their story and courage. When Cameron offered to write a post about caregiving, I couldn’t wait to read it. I truly believe his message and tips are as true for people who care for young children, as they are for taking care of an ill, loved one.
How to Survive being a Caregiver for a Loved One
Helping a loved one who is battling a serious illness is draining both emotionally and physically. It is stressful to be the main source of support and encouragement, and there may be times when you wonder how you will find the strength to carry on. I know this firsthand because I was the primary caregiver when my wife was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma just three months after the birth of our daughter.
I had to put my own feelings aside and start focusing on what she needed. It was incredible difficult to keep moving forward when things seemed so hopeless, but I knew that I had to be there for my wife and daughter. Seven years have passed since my wife beat the cancer, and I learned some incredible lessons about being a caregiver through this process.
As an advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, I have spent some time helping other families and caregivers with their own battles. People are always asking me how I did it, and I’m happy to share that information with you. I hope you will be able to put some of these tips to use to make your own time as a caregiver a little easier.
#1 – Be willing to accept help. People are going to offer all kinds of assistance because they want to do something to help you. Don’t let your pride get in the way. If they are offering to cook meals, provide day care services or come over and take the trash out, accept their help and thank them. It may not seem like a lot to them, but it can make a world of difference to you.
#2 – Remember to take care of yourself. This one is perhaps the hardest for caregivers. You are so focused on your loved one that you forget to eat meals, get enough sleep and take care of your own health. If you are in poor health and struggling physically, then you will not be in any condition to care for your loved one. Make the time to sleep and eat properly. Try to go for a little walk to clear your head in the evening, or sit down and read a book. The person you love is counting on you, but you aren’t going to be able to carry the load if you run yourself into the ground.
#3 – Prioritize the to-do list. There will be a list of things that must be done, and you will never get everything checked off. When you address one item, another will take its place. Accept that you will never run out of things to do, embrace the fact that you don’t have to get to all of them, and then start prioritizing what must be done first. You don’t want to miss doctor’s appointments, and other tasks will certainly rise to the top. However, there will be plenty of other tasks that you can move to the bottom of the list. Don’t overburden yourself with the little things.
#4 – Get organized to reduce stress. Part of the stress load for caregivers comes from trying to keep up with everything. There are doctor’s appointments to make, new bills to address, and you may have insurance forms to keep track of. Get a binder or folder for the medical information, and start using tools like your computer, phone or calendar to keep track of information and manage your schedule.
#5 – Become informed by educating yourself. You don’t have to wait for the doctor to give you information, and taking the time to learn about the disease can help you feel more in control. Look at online resources, join a support group and check out books from the library. If the opportunity presents itself, meet with other caregivers to exchange information, tips and ideas. This type of proactive behavior will help keep stress levels down while you are acting as the primary caregiver.
Cameron Von St. James is the husband of mesothelioma survivor advocate Heather Von St. James, who was diagnosed in 2005 at the age of 36. A seven year survivor of this rare cancer, Heather and Cameron now work with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance to bring awareness to this often neglected disease. They hope that by sharing their story, they can bring hope and inspiration to people facing any sort of illness or disability, and the caregivers who support them. Heather and Cameron live in Roseville, MN with their daughter Lily, who is now 7.