A woman who was clearly frazzled stopped me. She said that she’s been caring for her husband who’s been in treatment for cancer. He wants her near him all of the time. It’s not that he actually needs her all of the time. He just wants to be sure that she’s there – just in case. She wants to get out of the house on a regular basis. She craves having a little time for herself. This is not an unusual situation. The caregiver may feel compelled to stay with the patient at all times, or the patient may demand constant attention.

All caregivers should reserve some time for themselves. If they don’t get it, they burn out, become resentful, and aren’t helpful to anyone. Cancer treatment has rhythms. There are days when the patient feels sick, but there are also days when the patient feels reasonably well. After a while, these rhythms become clear and are reasonably predictable. When the patient is likely to have a good day, the caregiver should schedule some time to get away from cancer.

The timing can be negotiable. If the patient demands full-time attention, the caregiver should set boundaries and say, “I need to get out of the house twice a week. We can work together to decide the days and times.” If the patient truly needs full-time attention, the caregiver should bring in other resources. Family members, friends and volunteers may be able to provide some assistance. Funds may be available to hire a home health aide for a few hours a week. It can be a good investment.

I’ve heard a few patients tell the spouse/caregiver, “I don’t want those other people in the house. I want you to take care of me.” When that happens, the caregiver should also set boundaries and say, “I can take care of you better when we have help. Let’s work together to decide how to arrange it.”

Being a caregiver for someone with cancer is stressful and exhausting. It can also be rewarding and one of life’s most meaningful experiences. The positive is more likely to emerge when the caregiver gets a regular break from caregiving.

Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original Publication Date: August 23. 2014


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