We all have those times in life that drain us and change us. For me, that time includes helping to care for my mom while she battled breast cancer. While her fight was much harder, I learned very quickly that the role of a family member and caregiver isn’t exactly easy either. There are appointments, really (really) bad health days, treatments, phone calls, insurance battles, tears, laughter, scans … the list can go on and on.
These things take a toll on everyone close to the patient that is involved in day to day care. It’s a roller coaster of emotions, and it can be easy to overlook the toll cancer takes on loved ones. We’re there in the background, usually in the dark on how to do all of it, thrown into an unexpected circumstance with no instruction, terrified of the possible outcomes. We become at-home nurses, chauffeurs, patient advocates, and cheerleaders. But we are usually not well-equipped to do all this while still balancing our regular day-to-day lives.
It is crucial to remember to take care of yourself while you are caring for a loved one battling cancer (or any long-term illness). Thankfully, there are great resources to help you do just that if you’re in the midst of this very difficult role.
Resources at Work
The Family Medical Leave Act was enacted to protect your job while you care for a family member during an illness (or due to other qualifying events). Your employer is legally required to offer this to you once you notify them of your situation, but it is important that you also know your rights. Find out the specifics, and if you qualify for leave, at the U.S Department of Labor website.
CancerBridge is a service offered through some employers. After a diagnosis, patients and their families have many questions. CancerBridge helps answer those questions. Patients or their families are matched with a specialized physician who guides them through those first steps needed to begin treatment and understand a diagnosis.
Resources in The Midlands
Leeza’s Care Connection
Started by Leeza Gibbons, this foundation supports and empowers family members who suddenly find themselves in a caregiver role. It is a place to go to find support, to ask questions, find resources and connect with other caregivers. Leeza’s Care Connection is located in Irmo, and is totally free of charge.
Lexingon Medical Center offers a support group for family members of patients given a life threatening diagnosis. This group is free of charge and meets weekly as the main hospital campus. Patients diagnosed with cancer are also paired with a nurse navigator, who works with the patient and their families to help guide them through the treatment process. My mom’s nurse navigator at Lexington Medical Center was definitely a huge help and support to us throughout her treatment and beyond.
At Palmetto Health Hospitals, patients are also matched with nurse navigators that help the patient and family through the treatment process. Patients and their families can find spiritual support from hospital chaplains 24 hours a day.
South Carolina Cancer Alliance
The SC Cancer Alliance is a great informational resource for patients and their families. You can find answers to your questions about a diagnosis and links to other national support resources for caregivers. This information can help you feel more informed about what your loved one is going through, which is a vital part of being an effective and supportive caregiver.
American Cancer Society
Visit the American Cancer Society website and its’ Cancer Caregiver Support page to find a free interactive guide. This guide will teach you how to best care for yourself while caring for a family member, and understand how to be an emotional support for your loved one.
Books for Patients and Families
Books are always a great resource to find support as well. Check out this list of books that can help you in your role as a caregiver.