by Tambre Leighn MA, CPC, ELI-MP, Paula Holland De Long ACC, CPCC, and Sharon Roth-Lichtenfeld ACC, CPC, ELI-MP
Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. — Theodore Roosevelt
Spouse, significant other, child, relative or friend, when someone you love hears the words, “you have breast cancer,” you are unexpectedly thrust into a role you didn’t ask for, requiring knowledge, skills, and resources you never expected to need. You are vital in the overall wellbeing and quality of life of your loved one. Your value as the caregiver is indispensable and is a key natural resource in this challenging time.
Though it may feel like it, you’re not alone. According to the American Cancer Society, three out of four families have at least one member who is a cancer survivor. They also estimate that each survivor is supported by up to four inner circle caregivers.
Because of the ever-increasing numbers of survivors living longer, more people are caring for a loved one for extended periods of time. Not only does your loved one need support, you need support as well.
As a caregiver you face huge challenges, however there are many rewards. This includes gaining new inner strength, deepened feelings of love and connection, more appreciation for what you have, learning to ask for help; and a greater sense of purpose.
Ironically it is the many challenges that come with this role mixed with your natural desire to do whatever it takes that often leads to the well documented extensive impact on you and your family, including the number one hurdle… STRESS! More specifically, HIDDEN STRESSORS. Left unchecked they keep you from providing the support and care your loved needs and reek havoc with your over all well being.
Creating awareness and exposing hidden stressors can help you maintain, strengthen and value yourself. In return it brings you much needed strength, health, confidence and helping you to be a better caregiver.
What are the hidden stressors, and why do they matter?
Caring for your loved one is stressful. That’s normal. Obvious fears like losing your loved one, concerns about your ability to manage what’s happening, and all the new practical considerations can easily cause sleep problems, lack of exercise and the dreaded burnout affect. These obvious stresses leave you feeling like you have no one and nowhere to turn to for support, and no choice but to do what needs to be done.
You do have choices.
It’s the perceived lack of support, hidden under the obvious concerns, that is the number one contributor to caregiver stress. This perception is actually self-generated. Your strong desire to care for your loved one can easily isolate you, creating the feeling of being alone, unappreciated, or overwhelmed. This hidden belief is part of the stress equation and feeds the feeling that you and only you are the team. This does not serve you or your loved one.
It’s time to challenge this belief by choosing to change your viewpoint. There is REAL support all around you. There are people and resources to help. Just recognizing help is available lowers stress2. Reaching out for support is a choice that provides the added benefit of building your confidence, creating more patience and giving you more staying power to support your loved one.
Not knowing what to expect and what to do is another hidden stressor for caregivers. There are so many obvious new, unfamiliar things to grasp and figure out, coming at you like rapid fire such as, the effects of chemo/radiation, scheduling appointments, understanding test results and doctor language. The challenges of caregiving do not end with treatment. Long term survivorship brings its own unique set of stressors. Another common hidden stressor is feeling like you are not doing a good enough job. This can easily lead to losing the feeling of being valued. It’s natural to forget your loved ones’ medical team, other caregivers, and community resources are also a resource for you to learn.
There is no rulebook on the right way to be a cancer caregiver. However, you can reduce hidden stressors by choosing to be involved in the care plan and tapping into resources, such as nurse navigators, support organizations, life coaches etc. Using these support systems can provide recognition, emotional release, and practical support to keep you at your best.
Our last hidden stressor is your loved ones’ emotional distress. When they are diagnosed you vow to do anything and everything in your power to help them. You experience a normal, natural urge to put on your Superman Cape to shield them, showing no fear yourself to keep theirs at bay. The hidden paradox is you must take off the cape occasionally to be your best for them.
Wearing the Cape constantly can lead to unhealthy, stress inducing choices. Your loved one may insist only you can care for them. You may feel guilty for letting someone else help or taking any time for yourself. Guilt is a perceived wrongdoing. It is not wrong or bad to have support because as Terry Tempest Williams notes, “An individual doesn’t get cancer, a family does.”
It may be hard to believe but caregivers around the world report that taking off their Superman Cape lessens their mental and emotional strain. It gives them the ability to better deal with the emotional distress of their loved one and they feel more appreciated and valued.
Exploring hidden stressors is not only essential it benefits your well-being and has a favorable impact on the care you give your loved one. As coaches specializing in cancer caregiver support, we know that providing you with tools, tips and techniques gives you the opportunity to maintain or generate positivity and well being. This is why we have created the Inner Circle Toolbox below, a recurring feature that will appear in all upcoming issues of BCW Magazine.
The first tool we are providing to you is the CSCC Stress Thermometer.
Inner Circle Toolbox
It takes awareness to uncover stress. The CSCC Stress Thermometer is a quick and simple to use to help you measure your stress level in 60 seconds or less. Measuring your stress daily will give you a clear picture of your overall levels. To access your Stress Thermometer Tool please go to www.cancersurvivorshipcoachingcoalition.com.
Choosing this tool is the first step in taking control of your stress and strengthening your well-being. When you value yourself, you can be that valuable resource for your loved one.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The Cancer Survivorship Coaching Coalition was founded to foster pro-active choices and sustainable well-being through the power of the coaching modality. We provide education, training, and tools that create meaningful, action-oriented survivorship plans and solutions. Founded by certified professional coaches, Tambre Leighn MA, CPC, ELI-MP, Sharon Roth-Lichtenfeld ACC, CPC, ELI-MP, and Paula Holland De Long ACC, CPCC, all with life experience and expertise either as survivors, caregivers, and/or pre-vivors. For more information visit www.CancerSurvivorshipCoachingCoalition.com.
2 http://www.ucsur.pitt.edu/files/schulz PsychosomMedKimSchulzCarver07.pdf