It’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching seeing someone you love suffering through the trials of cancer. Anthea-Lynn Lewis from the Cancer Association of South Africa (www.cansa.org.za) in Cape Town knows these difficult emotions intimately: she’s a cancer survivor herself, and she cared for her aunt while she was battling cancer.
“Many times when I took my aunt to hospital she was so sick it felt like I was going to lose her right there and then,” the cancer activist relates. “Caregivers see their loved ones at their lowest and most vulnerable. You have to administer morphine, clean bedsores and deal with the days when 5ml of water is all they’re allowed to drink that day. You see them cringing in pain – and you’re left with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.”
The seven most important pieces of advice for caregivers
Anthea says there is no manual that can fully prepare you to become a caregiver. “However, you’ll actually surprise yourself when you look back at how your natural instinct of caring, help and support kicked in,” she says.
She offers the following crucial advice for those caring for cancer patients:
- Never tell a cancer patient you’re feeling sorry for them, as they feel hopeless already. Try and keep a positive attitude and always communicate openly, honestly and empathetically with them.
- Pain becomes a big part of the journey, and each one handles it differently. Allow them to deal with what they are going through in their own way.
- Don’t force the patient to eat, there are days they will eat and days they won’t.
- Remember to take time out, as you’ll be of no value to anyone if you’re overtired.
- Share the duties with family members and friends, which allows them to be a part of the journey too.
- Don’t over-medicate the patient because you can’t bear seeing him or her in pain – stick to prescribed dosages.
- It’s important to receive counselling to prepare yourself for the role of caregiver. CANSA has support groups for caregivers and a coping kit, and has formed alliances with community homebase carers, who can assist with wound care and palliative care.
For more info
The Cancer Association of South Africa: www.cansa.org.za
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