Cameron Von St. James
When someone you love has a serious illness, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or cancer, taking on the role of a caregiver is challenging. It most cases, it happens suddenly and unexpectedly, and you find yourself completely unprepared. In my case, I was in one of the best times of my life as I had just spent three of the happiest months with my newborn daughter, Lily, when my wife found out she was seriously ill. She had malignant pleural mesothelioma, a form of rare cancer that is caused by being exposed to asbestos.
I had to swiftly take on the role of main supporter and caregiver to my wife. Something, at the time, I felt I was incompetent to do. Those were some of the most difficult and trying times I’ve ever faced. Although my wife beat the cancer and seven years later, she is still well, it took a lot of effort to get here. We have been through so much that made us stronger, and lessons that taught us to never lose faith, and to keep on going no matter what. I feel this has left me with a lot of experience that would be valuable to other caregivers.
I am able to share this experience and pass on helpful tips to other caregivers and their families by being an advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. There are a few questions that I am asked the most, and I am sharing the answers I give, which are based on the lessons I learned from my own experience and from other caregivers.
- Take care of your emotional and physical well-being. This is really essential as you need to feel good in order to keep a positive atmosphere around the home. If you fall apart, then that will make the situation much worse, and it will make the person you are caring for feel guilty that they have put you in this situation. They do not need that. So, for their sake and yours, make sure you get enough sleep, good food and exercise. These simple things will prevent ‘caregiver burnout.’
- Prioritize everything you need to do. This is key to being able to get everything done. Make a list of things that are important and prioritize them in order of urgency. Also, make lists of things that are not so important and that perhaps someone else could do. If you also have to take care of children and need to continue working, then taking the time to do this will be a big help to your day-to-day activities.
- Use whatever tools you are comfortable with to help you with prioritizing and organizing everything you need to do. A pad of paper and a pen, laptop, iPad or any other way you may prefer can help you keep track of appointments, medications, and the hundreds of other things you need to see to. Keep all your medical and insurance papers well organized so you can get the information you need quickly.
- Learn all you can about the illness your loved one is fighting. I became an expert on mesothelioma after my wife was diagnosed. The more you know the better you will be able to care for them. You can recognize what they are going through, anticipate how they will feel and understand the side effects they have to the treatment. This will give you confidence, and it will enable you to be a stronger caregiver.
- Do not hesitate to ask for assistance when you need it. It is easy to get wrapped up with your own problems, and feel as if it is all up to you. However, try not to let this happen. Stay closely connected with family and friends, and any other social activities you normally participate in as this will keep you in touch with other people. It is normal to have moments when you feel you can’t handle things anymore, but what you need to do is ask for help. Wouldn’t you help someone else in your situation? Remember that everyone around you feels the same way, and they are willing to help; you just need to let them know. Even if it is just a small errand, it will be one less thing that you have to remember.