9 Signs You Might be a Proactive Caregiver

Marlys

9 Signs You Might be a Proactive Caregiver

Marlys
I remember exactly where I was when my cell phone rang. “It’s cancer,” said the deep voice I knew and loved so well. “Oh, hon,” I said, holding my breath, my brain firing in all directions like that little silver ball in a pinball machine.


Photo by Sydney Raeon Unsplash


My husband, Gary, and I wanted to be proactive in facing down disease. “What can we do in addition to what you’re prescribing?” we asked the medical professionals. In time, we determined a plan for living proactively.

In Gary’s case—relatively young and in good shape with late-stage prostate cancer—he could expect to live an average of two years. But Gary was never one to accept ‘average.’ Instead, he lived ten years, and most of those years carried good quality of life.

Keeping in mind that every caree/caregiver team is unique, here are 9 proactive things we did:

1. Read ... but don’t believe everything you read.


Gary and I know of patients who paid thousands of dollars for treatment in foreign places, who invested in expensive concoctions that were guaranteed to cure. None of these things panned out for them.

We did our share of reading, and we came open-minded to medical appointments. But we eventually set aside our reading and started living while Gary still had life.

 2. Prepare for appointments.


There are some practical things we caregivers can do to prepare for medical consultations:

  • Compile a list of questions at home as they arise and bring the list.

  • Take good notes because it’s easy to forget important points.

  • Be open about the caree’s health history and physical quirks.


3. Eat better.


Gary and I steered toward a plant-rich diet: We incorporated more veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes; eliminated unhealthful fats and sugars; and cut back on red meats, eating small portions of poultry and seafood instead.

Gary’s cooperation was crucial. If he had resisted me in this endeavor, for the sake of keeping the peace I would have given up.

Disclaimer: Before you make any changes to diet or exercise levels, first consult with your physician.

4. Get moving.


A caree is more likely to stick with healthful living choices if the caregiver joins in. Keep in mind that every caree/caregiver is on a different plane of health and energy. Gary felt relatively well but his treatment caused osteoporosis. So we started pounding the pavement to strengthen bones, and eventually took up hiking and snowshoeing in the nearby Cascades. For others, more movement might simply mean a gentle walk around the block.

5. Manage the stress.


Whether we’re the caree or the caregiver, a decline in health comes with a considerable amount of stress. Gary and I discovered some simple, inexpensive ways to help us manage the anxiety:

  • Getting outdoors was a big one – whether hiking to the top of a mountain, or sitting near the river that flowed through the middle of our hometown.

  • We established a standing Friday date, which, toward the end, usually meant sitting in lawn chairs in the park beneath impossibly tall trees, just being together.  

  • We practiced living in the present, counting all that remained instead of all that would never be the same.


6. Get connected.


Joining a group of caregivers who have experienced what we’re going through can nurture strength and hope. Powerful words, these: “I get it” ... “I’ve been there” … “This is what helped me.”

7. Practice gratitude.


Gary and I weren’t grateful for cancer interrupting our lives. But in time, we learned to count all the things that made up a brimming life:

  • Relentlessly loving family and friends

  • FaceTime conversation with all six grandkids at once – zaniness!

  • Beauty of snow tumbling downward and fireplace flickering

  • One more day with my beloved


8. Give back.


Giving back can add meaning to an otherwise senseless diagnosis. Gary and I established a non-profit and, working around our day jobs, traveled across the country presenting what we were doing to live well with terminal disease.

A caregiver friend knits prayer shawls for chemo patients, and another one rocks frail newborns at our local hospital. Giving back takes our thoughts off our own losses as we focus on the hurts and sorrows of others around us.

9. Consider hospice care for the terminal patient.


When Gary opted out of a last chemo possibility, the oncologist suggested a referral to hospice care. I remember thinking: Wait ... isn’t it too soon?! 

Most people think hospice care is for the final days of life. But it’s not. It’s for the patient who decides to forego additional treatment or surgery. The hospice team’s goal is to provide care and comfort for the terminal patient. And it’s better to get them onboard before there is a crisis.

::


Even though, back at the beginning, I didn’t fully understand the value of being a proactive caregiver, it was absolutely one of the wisest things I did.

Because proactivity says, I’m not going to sit back and hope surgery or treatment is all that’s needed.It says, We’re going to live a brimming, fierce, courageous, full life while we can.