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Finding Your Place as a Caregiver

November 01, 2017

A week before the end of her fifth-grade year, Taylor’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although she was told she had 15 months to live, Taylor’s mom being the strong-willed, positive person she was fought for four years before passing away. Over those four years, Taylor’s family made as many memories as possible, went on multiple trips, and lived every day to the fullest. Taylor shares her advice on finding your place as a caregiver so that you can take the best possible care of your loved one and yourself.

A week before my fifth-grade year ended, and summer break was about to start, my Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The fun, hot, adventure-filled summer I was extremely excited for was no longer on my mind. June 2, 2009 changed my family’s life forever. Soon after, my Mom had her first surgery and a couple of weeks later, another surgery. I was told the creepy, thin, black spider legs coming out of the left side of her head were stitches, and they would soon be removed. My Mom, who had always been chauffeur to me, my siblings, and all of my friends, could no longer drive. Her long, red, curly hair was cut to her shoulders. As she started her radiation, a cheetah, gold, or purple dyed ambry scarf covered her growing brown roots. That summer, though it wasn’t what I expected, was filled with positive memories, and many adventures.

My Mom was told she had 15 months. Being the strong-willed, positive person that she was, she tripled her time with us and fought for four years. February 19th, 2013 my Mom lost her fight to cancer. In those four years that we had, my family made as many memories as possible, we went on multiple trips, and lived every day to the fullest. While some days were better than others, my Mom didn’t let her tumor define her. If it wasn’t for the daily trips to the Cleveland Clinic for a period of time for chemo, the scarf on her head, or her inability to drive, no one would have ever known she was sick.

Being the close-nit family that we are, my dad, sister, brother and I all took care of my Mom in different ways. Although it is beyond difficult to watch someone you love suffer, there are many important things to remember while doing so:

  1. Never treat your loved one like they’re sick. The person will not feel like a sick person if you don’t treat them like one. No matter how severe their illness, the only thing telling them “you’re sick” is the expression on their loved ones faces and the words coming out of their mouths. No one wants to be defined by their own illness.
  2. While helping your loved one in any way - walking, thinking of a word, using the bathroom, getting dressed, showering - never act with frustration. The slightest sigh, or raise in a voice should never occur because they are 10,000 times more frustrated than you are. Always act with patience and kindness. They deserve it and that will take you much further than fruCstration.
  3. Spend as much time as you can with your loved one. If there is an opportunity to watch a movie, go to lunch, or just talk, take that opportunity. Beyond discussing old memories, this is gifted time to make new memories and to say I love you as often as you can.
  4. Give privacy when necessary. If your loved one needs help to go the bathroom, help them to the extent that they want, but don’t invade their privacy. People who are ill deserve as much respect as healthy people - respect helps patients to maintain their dignity. If they want a moment to themselves, or alone with a friend, they too are allowed to do so. You don’t control their lives.
  5. Talk about the future. Enjoy the time you’re given. Don’t live in sadness, think about life long dreams, weddings, babies, don’t keep them from planning your future with you, they will always be there.
  6. A loving hug, kiss or a simple holding of the hand is a wonderful thing and just as wonderful to someone who is sick. Never forget that they are the same wonderful person they were before the illness, and that they want you to treat them the same way now as you did then.
  7. If you find yourself impatient, overwhelmed, or depressed, get more help, ask a family member or hire professional help. Try to find whatever solutions you think will help your loved one feel as comfortable as possible.

Taking care of yourself is just as important as the care you provide your loved one. Don’t feel guilty about remembering your own needs:

  1. Cry when necessary. Crying is known to clear endorphins. It lets out stress and ultimately makes one feel more relaxed.
  2. Work out to get your anger out. Going for a run, taking a yoga class, or lifting weights are all incredible activities to do when you need to take your mind off of things and relieve anger from your body.
  3. Truly think about the decisions you’re making. Is it something you will regret later? Will it disappoint my loved one? Am I making them feel like a burden?
  4. No matter how you’re feeling, talk about it. No one should suffer alone because no one is alone. Everyone has feelings and is touched by different things. Bottling up your emotions will only lead to greater distress in the future.
  5. Enjoy the time with your loved ones, your friends, the activities you part take in, and the life you are living.

There is not a more sacred role than being a caregiver for someone you love. It’s also the hardest task you will have to do. With that, it is important to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and actions. Take care of yourself and don’t forget to treasure special moments with those you love.

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