A woman and her mother have a long distance phone conversation but a joint speech bubble with a heart in between them

There are Many Ways to be a Caregiver (Part 1)

We all know how scary the diagnosis of cancer can be. I know I do. But it is equally traumatizing, if not more so, to find out a family member has cancer. You may feel helpless and many times, not sure what to say. Here's the thing - just be there. Don't walk out of their lives because you don't know what to do or say. If you have to, ask them how you can help, but only do this if you followthrough. If nothing else, just give a call or a text to let them know you're thinking about them. As a caregiver, I've seen first hand, the pain a person can experience when they feel isolated or alone after diagnosis.

My first caregiving experience

My first caregiving experience was for my mother. When she first told me about her cancer I cried my eyes out (privately) and then asked her plans. She lived states away and I had to work so I couldn't be with her. I asked if she wanted to stay with me and go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, but she already had a doctor she trusted. Luckily, she lived with my aunt who took wonderful care of her.

I knew I couldn't be there, but I could call, and that's what I did, every day. She needed to talk and I wish so much that I had asked better questions that would have allowed her to really talk about how she felt. Instead, we were cheerleaders for each other. I really wanted her to be optimistic because I truly felt that would help her the most. But did it make her feel positive, or was that just an act for me? I'll never know, but I can share what I wish I'd done.

I wish I'd asked her how she felt - how she really felt. I wish I asked her if she were in pain. I wish I asked her if she was scared or felt alone. Mostly, I wish she were still here.

Learning to be vulnerable

I guess my point is, as a caregiver, it's important to let, or even encourage a person to talk, vent, show fear, and even cry. It might be what they need. It's hard to be part of that and so we may mask our feelings and don't talk about the things that probably should be talked about. So often we hold back on asking someone how they really feel because it's uncomfortable and we're not sure how they will respond. We're not even sure if we should bring it up for fear we will upset them.

With my mom, I felt that I had to be strong for her. Maybe what she really needed was for me to be vulnerable with her. Again, I'll never know. If nothing else, maybe just seeing what they need and asking a few open-ended questions may help them to feel safe to talk and express their real feelings. I know from experience how scary it is to be on both sides of the cancer fence. Sometimes I wish someone would ask what I need to talk about. They don't, but I understand why. Understanding doesn't take away wishing I would have had deeper conversations with my mom.

I would love to hear your thoughts about how people treated you when they found out you had cancer and how you wish they would have been - I think this is important to share.

Wishing you all health and happiness!

Read Part 2 to hear about my experience being a caregiver for my daughter, Crystal.

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