In recognition of National Women’s Health Week, Certified Caregiving Consultant Louisa Stringer shares how developing a deeper awareness of one’s inner health can benefit women’s overall wellbeing while caring for a loved one with cancer. You can read more of Louisa’s writing on the caregiving experience here.
At this point in our lives, we all have a decent understanding that our health isn’t purely dictated by physical wellness. Our health is also about our mental, emotional, and spiritual state. This awareness is crucial when we find ourselves in the midst of caring for a loved one with cancer. In the aftermath of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, we have an opportunity to enhance our inner health. Our overall well-being needs to be addressed and understood before we can comprehend caregiving in this capacity.
Being National Women’s Health Week, it is interesting to note that more than half of family caregivers caring for a loved one with cancer are women. So many of the intuitive qualities women possess are what help make them effective caregivers. Recognizing and nurturing these traits can provide women with the tools they need to effectively support their own mental wellbeing as they care for their loved ones. Here are some of the characteristics that pay homage to the healthy cancer caregiver women are or can become:
Caregiving is relational. Cancer patients and their caregivers are two people on a journey, both together and separate. It is important that we are aware of how much a patient and caregiver influence each other’s mental and physical health. According to Cancer.gov, “one survey of 689 patients and their caregivers demonstrated that higher levels of depression in caregivers were associated with patients’ ratings of lower quality of care.” If a caregiver has no inner strength to emotionally process a diagnosis, treatment, or care, it has a detrimental affect on their loved one’s ability to feel like they can get through their situation.
Not only are cancer caregivers relating to their loved ones in new ways during a cancer diagnosis, but they are recognizing who is in their corner. Be it family or friends, this connection with a team of support individuals is essential for the well-being of the caregiver. The relational importance of having others you can rely on gives the caregiver the energy to push forward and onward.
Caregivers are resilient. Navigating the cancer caregiving experience is an exploration we take within ourselves. When we sit with doctors and nurses who throw out new words to us while administrators and hospital volunteers hand us more paperwork, we can easily get overwhelmed. There is a reason patience and patients sound the same. Managing the practical and emotional aspects of patient care while effectively advocating for our loved one is a beautiful balance. Engaging our tough spirit as caregivers, the patient, their story, and the awareness around the disease is the key element to embracing resiliency.
Caregiving is compassion. Cancer patients, more often than not, are facing an uncertain future. Cancer caregiving is a progression of understanding: You are understanding your loved one’s diagnosis; you are understanding a new schedule/routine; you are understanding how your loved one is feeling; you are understanding how to advocate. All the while, you’re trying to understand yourself and your needs. Having grace, sympathy, and tenderness not only for your loved one but for yourself helps everyone heal and strengthens the relationship between caregiver and care receiver.
Caregivers have intuition. Being aware of who you are is of the utmost important. Intuition is a process that gives us the ability to know something, bridging the gap between the conscious and unconscious parts of us. The poet Rumi writes, “there is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” That is your intuition. This wordless voice is your inner health, and that inner health is power. You cannot properly care for someone if you are not aware of this voice within you. Knowing the parts of your life you can simplify and finding an environment that offers stability adds a sense of peace to that intuition which allows you to be an extraordinary caregiver to your loved one.
A woman’s health inside and out can be deeply affected by the ups and downs of caregiving for a loved one with cancer. Maintaining their instinctual strengths, abilities, and a healthy self-awareness provides women caregivers with the capacity to effectively, lovingly, and honestly care for the ones they love.