Being a caregiver is not easy. While caregivers often face physical and emotional challenges, being a caregiver is an experience that ebbs and flows — there’s the bad stuff and sometimes there’s good stuff, too. Becoming a caregiver requires adjustment, like many transitional times in life do.
A study, titled “The Experience of Caregivers Living with Cancer Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Synthesis”, published in 2015 sought to explore the experience of caregivers who were caring for cancer patients. The study found that many caregivers experience some of the following:
- Fear of losing the loved one.
- Fear for the loved one’s survival.
- Feeling helpless
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling inadequate
This is not an extensive list of experiences caregivers in the study had — however, these rose to the top in terms of challenges. BUT NOT ALL EXPERIENCES WERE NEGATIVE.
In fact, caregivers who participated in this study noted benefits to the experience (commonly referred to as ‘benefit finding’), including the following:
- Having a closer relationship with their relatives or spouses (the care-receiver)
- Receiving support from family and friends
- Feeling a greater connection to religious beliefs or spirituality
- …and more
A more recent study did, however, show that across all caregiver age groups of those caring for patients with terminal cancer, “the rates of distress were five to seven times higher as compared with estimates for the general population,” and overall health is lower. So while there may be some ‘silver linings’ to caregiving, it is clear that many caregivers need additional support.
The Rise of Young Caregivers
The number of people diagnosed with early-age onset (EAO) colorectal cancer is rising. In the summer of 2018, The American Cancer Society (ACS) lowered their recommendation for screening age from 50 to 45 for average-risk adults as a preliminary way to tackle the issue.
Because we’re seeing an increase in young adults diagnosed with colon and rectal cancers, perhaps there is also an increase in younger caregivers: 30-something spouses, siblings, and friends, for example. Young adult caregivers (age 18-40) likely have unique needs and challenges, just as the young adult cancer patients. For example, balancing work, dating, the care of young children–just to name a few.
Being a young caregiver is different than being one who is an older adult because we are in the beginning of our marriages/relationships, and may have very young kids. Where we are still figuring life out together and getting started on our life dreams and goals together, I was forced to shift my mindset from honeymoon to scheduling chemo appointments, medication refills and surgeries with a brand new baby in my arms. – Kristina Smith, Advocate
Tips for the Young Caregiver
While not all caregivers are the “primary caregiver,” all caregivers provide a level of emotional or practical support. Here are some important tips for young adult caregivers:
1. Keep it open – Talk to your loved one about what’s going on. Be open about how you’re feeling and when you may need a break, whether it be a day to focus on personal wellness or just 10 minutes.
2. Take care of yourself – Go for a walk if you can’t make it to your fitness class. Shower. Get a manicure and pedicure if it makes you feel good and relaxed. Watch your favorite TV show.
3. Find mental health support – Whether or not you acknowledge it, the emotional stress of caring for a loved one can take its toll. Finding a mental health professional early on is a great way to share your feelings, get tips on managing anxiety, and make sure that you’re taking care of you.
We often talked about how life forced us to slow down so we could spend quality time together playing on the floor with our baby, avoid the rat-race of life, and allowed us to have a different perspective on the world and life. Being cognitive about being thankful–which typically included keeping a journaled list of things to be thankful for allowed me to see light in a very dark time in our lives. – Kristina Smith, Advocate
What have you done to manage the stresses of caregiving?
Caregivers, comment in the comment section below on how you manage stress!
For more tips on managing stress, be sure to check out this webinar on mindfulness!
To talk to a live counselor at the Cancer Support Helpline, call the Fight CRC toll-free patient resources line (1-877-427-2111). The Cancer Support Helpline assists patients as well as their friends and family with a variety of cancer-related concerns, providing short-term counseling and referrals to local community resources. The helpline is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Monday through Friday, and is available in English and Spanish.