The role of a caretaker is quite important in the life of any patient, and particularly for any cancer patient.
When a person is faced with the news of cancer, the immediate reaction is the overwhelming feeling that this could be a matter of life and death. The whole life of the individual goes up-side-down. The need for a caretaker starts from that very moment.
A carer is usually required as a companion to the appointments from the very beginning. He /She are there to listen, to ask questions, to take notes… to support the cancer patient throughout the medical undertakings and to translate and retain information for the patient about what needs to be done and when.
Carers are also needed to take the patient back and from home, to help in the administration of medicines, to watch over the after-treatment effects, and to support the patient throughout mood changes. The carer is typically in charge of managing the relationship between the patient and the rest of the world, including contacts with family, friends, work… Caretakers are generally the main source of encouragement and resilience for that patient who has lost their ability to control their life after a cancer diagnosis.
One of the core issues that these carers face is that they need to be able to cope themselves, more often than not by concealing and deferring their own emotions, concerns and responsibilities.
This is a heavy burden to carry. In a good number of cases, the main worry of the carer is how to protect and encourage the patient. This comprises the itemization of bad news to the patient and to others, while making existence more bearable for this patient.
I have coached carers who have been so anxious about protecting the patient that they negate the possibility to talk to this patient about the gravity of the diagnosis, or to allow the patient to openly discuss their distress, their practical requirements and their prospects.
In many of my coaching cases it has been apparent that both the patient and the carer are protecting one another to their best of their ability, disguising their own emotions and opinions. None of them wants to negatively affect or worry the other party and therefore everyone pretends that “everything is fine”.
This unfortunately, does not work. Even when the carer thinks that the patient does not know, the patient usually knows that things are complicated and are not necessarily working as well as it is said. On the other hand, just alike the carer, the patient thinks that the carer does not know how things are not necessarily working as well as it is said.
The “mutual need of protecting the other” can be harmful to the patient and the carer, unfortunately. It is evident that frankness could be of prime importance to break the feeling of loneliness and separation that characterises the world of cancer. It also helps each party to share and be heard, and to find a middle ground that can work better for all affected.
Through coaching, carers have found “their voices”. This means, the opportunity to share anxiety and practical worries and to be truthful while tactful. A perceptive and gentle conversation with the patient is possible. Carers can learn through coaching to identify their fears and vulnerabilities, and to accept and deal with them without negatively upsetting the patient.
Outstandingly, after coaching many carers have found that having more honest conversations has allowed the patients to communicate more candidly with them too, to find constructive solutions to daily tasks.
Patients are usually grateful and more confident when they know that caretakers can listen and can act according to their own capabilities. Carers do not need to “suffer in silence” or pretend that everything is fine. Patients and their carers can and may be supported by others in the work through cancer. As a result of this joint effort, better relationships and competences have been forged by many of my caretaker clients… and when things are really working, both can rejoice openly and in all honesty.