What Does It Take To Be a Good Caregiver?

How do you know exactly what kind of care you should provide to someone with Cancer? People who have Cancer may require many different kinds of care, but everyone has the opportunity to provide care in accordance with their strengths.

If you've ever wondered how to be the best caregiver your loved one, the first step is figuring what type of caregiver you are. Throughout my 4 year cancer journey, I have been able to see what and who makes a good caregiver. What I found is that everyone has different strengths, and those strengths can be re-purposed into a caregiver role in some way. But first off, it's best to define the role of a caregiver; it's a person that provides care. But keep in mind that care is multi-faceted and can be given in many ways. Care can be be personal, financial, emotional, nutritional, or be in regards to transportation, or a pet. When you see that there are many different kinds of care to receive, it can open up different roles for different people.

Most of us with Cancer have heard the words, "If you need anything, let me know." Although we know it's in the best intentions, it's also very vague and we don't always know what to say. Instead, think about your strengths as a person and a friend. Do you bake an awesome lasagna that your friend with cancer always compliments? Cook some and bring it over to the house, even if it's un-invited. Do you have a perfect lawn? Volunteer to offer a weekly lawn-mowing session so your friend doesn't have to worry about it. Or maybe you are great at numbers and communicating with people, offer to hep with finances and insurance claims. These are all specific examples of the type of care that you can give.

There's also the possibility that you're the friend or family member who loves the person so much and wants to do everything for them. While that is a wonderful thought, realistically it doesn't usually work out well. Not everyone is meant for every type of care, so staying honest and specific about what you are actually capable of is crucial.

If you're the one being cared for, telling someone you don't want their help in a friendly and loving way can be a challenge. One way to approach this conversation would be saying something along the lines of, "I really appreciate you offering to help me that way, but I really need someone that is good at ______ and I know you have experience with that. Could you help me with that instead?" This tells the person that you appreciate them, acknowledge their strengths, and would love their help. It's definitely a compliment!

Some of us are blessed to have people with multiple strengths. My parents are great during my treatments; they keep the atmosphere light and fun. My mom is a great cook, cleans well, and keeps my family updated on my progress. My dad is very social and can get along with anyone, so he creates a friendly atmosphere with the staff wherever I go and that always makes everything better. He also asks questions and finds out what resources are available to me. My husband is best when I get home; he always has a comfy spot ready for me, a cat to cuddle with, and a drink and snack ready. He is also great at making impromptu dinners that are tasty, appetizing, and good for me.

There are also times where we may need a long-term caregiver that handles multiple duties, ones that aren't necessarily their strengths. I have experienced this during my transplants. So I talked to my Transplant Coordinator at the Kansas University Medical Center to get her advice. She sees hundreds of patients and caregivers each year as she helps them prepare for their transplant process. She has a lot of great information to give.

Much of the caregiver process really centers on honest and open communication. Being open with what to expect, how roles may reverse, how to deal with stress, remaining calm during chaos, being a good listener, and having a good sense of humor. My transplant coordinator also stresses that having several caregivers helps keep excess stress off of one person and gives everyone a break (including the patient). She encourages having caregivers share contact information and to "report off" like nurses do at shift change.

Hopefully this can help give some guidance on how to be the best caregiver, but also how to ask for and accept different forms of care and how to accept different care. Having people help you is not only helpful to you but very fulfilling for them! What a great gift for anyone to receive.

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