Cancer carers and its impact on the economy and society has been identified as a “hidden role”. Why? Because although carers are everywhere, in hospitals and surgeries, at home looking after patients and families, fulfilling tasks in communication, financial and health support, etc., only those patients do not have carers seem to really worry about them.
Carers are needed by heath practitioners to support patients during cancer treatment, to keep track of medicines and appointments, to monitor patients progress… Carers are the main resource to prevent and deal with the stress and depression of patients. Carers are crucial in communicating and facilitating relationships between cancer patients and their working place as well as attaining further assistance (medical and non-medical) for cancer patients. Cancer carers are also expected to perform at the top of their ability, as if everything is “normal”, because they are not “the patient”.
If the carers are so important, we really need to care for them. Cancer is a hard experience for the patient and for the carer. Alike the patient, carers also frequently suffer with anxiety, stress, depression and job pressures.
“As well as providing emotional and practical support, family members have to deal with their own feelings and strive to maintain family life, education, work and other responsibilities. For some, this can be very challenging.
Studies have shown that partners and other family members can experience equivalent or sometimes even higher levels of psychological distress than the patient with cancer, with anxiety and depression being two of the most commonly reported problems. Other emotions such as feelings of fear and uncertainty, hopelessness, resentment and mood changes also occur.
Physical wellbeing may also suffer, and families can be affected by fatigue, sleep disturbance, pain, loss of physical strength and loss of appetite. In addition, their existing health problems can be exacerbated by their care role, which brings with it additional stress and a lack of time to take appropriate rest, engage in health promotion activities and seek medical advice when necessary.
Sometimes family members will find themselves unable to engage in the same activities they did prior to the cancer diagnosis – for example as a result of lack of time, lack of enthusiasm or feelings of guilt that the patient can no longer join in – and can thus begin to feel socially isolated. They may also find they lose contact with friends who appear to have chosen avoidance as a coping mechanism after the cancer diagnosis. Some family members will also face changes to their education, employment and financial situation. Among people of working age, concerns with employment are not uncommon. Those who do not have flexible working conditions or supportive employers may be forced to take sick leave and holidays and suffer loss of income as a result. This can be in addition to loss of income from the patient.” (The Guardian 15/01/14)
So, what is that we need to understand regarding the world of the Cancer Carers?
Carers have practical and emotional needs that have to be look after by health professionals, charities, employers, government institutions and society as a whole.
Firstly, carers need to be identified, recognised and treated with respect as such. Carers also need information and communication with all the parties involved with the patient. Carers need to become more aware of their needs and limitations regarding the responsibilities that have been assigned to them and for that Carers also require a “safe place” where they can talk and ask questions freely.
Specialist coaches may provide a safe and supporting space for carers. Working with a specialist coach may grant the opportunity that carers need to explore the psychological and practical matters at hand, to ponder alternatives of action, and to plan according to the realities faced by the patient.
A coach can also become a proactive facilitator for carers to find individualised solutions that will be helpful to both the cancer patient and the carer.
Cancer carers are needed, and health providers, governments and companies must support them by facilitating access to specialist coaching services which fortunately are already available. Let us all support coaching cancer services and carers in their vital role!
The Guardian ( 15/01/14) Living with Cancer. Available on line at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/15/supporting-families-partners-cancer-patients