Most of you know that my husband Russ has been battling multiple myeloma for the last 6 1/2 years. What you may not know is that although he was in remission without treatment for over 3 years, this summer the cancer unfortunately relapsed.
Of course, as his wife, my focus is doing everything I can to keep him healthy and make this next leg of the journey as successful as possible. What can I do to help him? I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned about how to take care of a cancer patient.
The sad reality is that we will all, at some point in our lives have a close friend or family member struggle with a life-threatening illness. Knowing how to help them is a useful skill and can make us caregivers feel less helpless.
Make sure they eat, drink, get fresh air and rest
Whether you feel like a bully or not is irrelevant. Cancer patients need to eat. Simple, fresh, nutritious food that is easy to grab and go should be available all the time. Keep in mind that cancer treatment often changes the sense of taste. The patient’s favorite foods may not taste good to them, and they may get weird cravings. Stay flexible.
Sandwiches, soups, fresh fruit and veggies, oatmeal, scrambled eggs and calorie-dense foods like nuts and nut butters are good choices. Good fats like avocado hide easily in blender smoothies. Protein smoothies (non-GMO soy is better than when as a protein source) are a good protein source. Be careful with meat, it’s hard to digest and may make nausea worse.
Staying hydrated is important. Water is the best way to hydrate but iced tea is good too and adding lemon or lime juice can make plain water less boring. Don’t rely on soda because neither added sugar nor artificial sweeteners are healthy choices. Sports hydration drinks are OK if the patient has diarrhea but choose one that doesn’t have artificial sweeteners or colors (Shaklee Hydrate is my choice!).
Sleep is tough. Many cancer patients don’t sleep well, because of symptoms, treatment effects and stress. Talk to their doctor if they’re having trouble sleeping, medications can help.
Also don’t underestimate the importance of getting outside. Nature is healing and too much hibernation is not good. Russ’s first outing after being in the hospital in 2011 was to the Yankee Peddler Festival. Granted, he spent a lot of time holding down benches and tree stumps, and we didn’t stay long, but he was in the fresh air and sunshine, and we were together as a family.
Take care of yourself too
As I’ve written before, one of the first orders of business when you are a caregiver is to take care of yourself. If you are exhausted you won’t be able to take good care of your loved one. You can’t pour from an empty cup!
Eat and drink as you should. Get enough rest. Get outside, with or without your loved one. Exercise. Recharge your batteries by doing what you enjoy as often as you can.
Vent OUT, not IN
Not long ago, I read a really good article that was sort of about the etiquette of being around someone struggling with a serious illness. I can’t find the article right now, but the gist of it is this.
Imagine a bull’s eye target with the patient in the middle. Everyone they know is arranged in the rings around them. Those closest to them, physically and emotionally, are in the smallest rings and as you get farther away you find distant family members, casual acquaintances and those they see in passing.
Their spouse and children are on the smallest ring. Grown children may be a step out, depending on the relationship.
When you interact with others in relation to the cancer patient, remember that you are on the RECEIVING end from those who are farther in than you are. For instance, when my mom was sick with breast cancer I had my own fears and anxieties. My sister and I were terrified we were going to lose our mom. I didn’t unload on her or my dad about that, though. My husband or my close friends were my resource to deal with my own fears. I vented OUT, not IN.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t tell a cancer patient that you’re afraid for them. You don’t have to be relentlessly cheerful and optimistic all the time. Just be careful not to add stress to their already overwhelming burden. When dealing with a cancer patient, your goal is to relieve stress, not increase it. Let them vent out, take pressure off, don’t increase the pressure. It’s about them right now, not about you.
Cancer patients have a lot to deal with. They are juggling treatment schedules, financial worries, physical symptoms and side effects, fears and anxieties. Some may be continuing to work, like my husband. They have family responsibilities as well.
There is a lot we can do to support a cancer patient in their journey back to wellness. Support their health, take care of yourself and find your own support system to help you keep your feet under you.
QUESTION: Did I forget anything? What has helped you in taking care of person struggling with a serious illness?