Role Reversal: After My Cancer, Becoming a Caregiver
Last updated: April 2023
Last fall, I found myself as both a cancer survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and caregiver. My husband became critically ill and was hospitalized for over six weeks in an acute care hospital and then two weeks in a rehabilitation facility. Even as a registered nurse with an extensive nursing background, I felt overwhelmed, fearful and frustrated. He experienced numerous complications and my emotions ranged from tears to rage. Thanks to supportive family members and close friends, I was able to survive this “nightmare” and am happy to report that my husband survived and has now resumed his love of golf.
A caregiver is defined as the person who most often helps the person with an acute or chronic illness, usually a spouse, partner, parent, adult child, or close friend. The caregiver may help feed, dress, bathe, arrange schedules, help make decisions, and provide transportation while still meeting their own needs and those of their family.1
Looking back at what was helpful during this difficult time, the following strategies were quite effective.
Managing life as a survivor and caregiver
Asking for help
Accepting help from others may not be easy. Getting help for yourself can also help your loved one as you stay healthier and your loved one feels less worried about you. Several times during my husband’s illness, I asked his sister to stay with him during the day, which allowed me a chance to return home, check the house, check mail, and even sleep at home (as I was staying at a family member’s home).
Making time for myself
Plan things that you enjoy. Several friends came to see me at the hospital. We had lunch away from the hospital, took a walk, and even went out for dinner, which was quite relaxing.
Take time to recharge your mind, body, and spirit. When my husband’s sister visited for the day, I planned to attend a yoga class, slept at home in a real bed as compared to the sofa at a relative’s house, and attended Mass the next morning before returning to the hospital.
Understanding my feelings
Recognize you may have a myriad of feelings: fear, anger, anxiety, worry, sadness, depression and loneliness. I feared the unknown. Would my husband survive? Would he resume his prior activities? Could I manage his care at home?
Give yourself an outlet. This may be quiet time. The hospital had a serene solarium overlooking the river, which I found relaxing and provided a respite.
You may find talking with someone who is open and nonjudgmental so that you can be candid about your fears. This may include a close friend, social worker, psychologist, or spiritual leader.
Consider writing in a journal. I found this very therapeutic. It helped relieve negative thoughts and feelings.
Caring for my body
Stay up to date with your medical needs, including checkups, screenings, and blood work. I remember meeting my oncologist who told me I looked exhausted. He and my personal physician feared that I too would become a patient again. I assured them that I would take care of myself, as I recognized that I would be no help to my husband if I too needed to be hospitalized.
Caregiving can be frustrating and painful. No one can be a caregiver 24 hours a day. As a cancer survivor, you must take steps to ensure that you care for yourself, not try to do it all yourself and set realistic limits. Hopefully, the above suggestions will promote your health while you provide care to a loved one.
How do you feel about your support system?