By Lisa Bailey
When my husband Phil’s colorectal cancer returned in
October of 2006, this time in the liver and lungs, I
found myself stressed to the max. With my
full-time job as a kindergarten teacher, my commitment
to my adult children and grandchildren, and keeping tabs
on my teenage daughter, adding compassionate caregiving
to my life’s work demands from me an incredibly
difficult balancing act.
The following sixteen coping strategies have helped me
in my attempts to live a balanced life. Because
caregiving is such a universal task, faced by nearly all
of us at one time or another, I hope you find these
strategies helpful as well.
1. Make all choices from a solid base
of integrity. I try to make medical and personal choices
from the base of my Christian faith, which helps free me
from second-guessing myself.
2. Be clear about today’s reality.
Don’t imagine things are worse than they are.
Enjoy the good parts of today and don’t let worries for
tomorrow take over your emotions and thoughts.
3. Talk honestly to family and
friends. Honest, frequent communication with close
family and friends from the start of diagnosis is much
easier than trying to play catch-up later. I discovered
a wonderful, free Internet service at caringbridge.org
which has allowed me to create a Web site to communicate
regularly about Phil’s health.
4. Expect and prepare for tough talks.
Family and friends process the news about a serious
illness at their own pace. They will not accept the
reality of the illness on a schedule that meshes with
yours. This means that sometimes family and friends will
not understand the tension of your caregiving lifestyle,
especially at first. This requires a difficult
conversation about what the illness is, how it will be
treated, and what kinds of side effects will be expected
from the treatment and the disease itself. It is helpful
to have a family conversation with the doctor
present.This provides an opportunity for questions to be
5. Learn the medical lingo. It
will help you as a caregiver and a medical advocate to
learn the lingo surrounding your loved one’s illness.
The Internet is a helpful resource, but you need to
learn what Web sites can be trusted and what Web sites
have a hidden agenda. I have included a list of trusted
Web sites I have used for medical information.
However, even with a trusted Web site, don’t believe
everything you read. Not all information will pertain to
your loved one’s situation and you can worry yourself
into a frenzy over some Internet information you have
read. Ask questions of the doctors and nurses.
Check the accuracy of your information if you are at all
troubled or in doubt.
6. During treatment, pain or pain
medication might do some talking. Be aware
that pain, stress and pain medications will
release the patient from their social “filter”
and they can and probably will say some
interesting and difficult things at times.
Actually, caregivers do this, too, as stress
lifts our social filters at unexpected
times—forgive yourself as well when this
happens. Listen and be compassionate as best you
can. Children and teenagers will need help
understanding the changes in their loved one’s
personality, especially to know that the changes
are not permanent.