From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders

November 12, 2021

Manage a medication schedule, drive to healthcare appointments, prepare meals, clean the house, offer companionship, track finances, coordinate care among doctors, and keep loved ones informed—these aren’t the responsibilities of a superhero in the traditional sense of the word. They are the many roles super caregivers have as they help those who are unable to care for themselves. November is National Family Caregivers Month, a national observance spearheaded by Caregiver Action Network (CAN) to recognize and honor caregivers across the country. “My OHC colleagues and I want to bring awareness to the caregiver role and offer tips for coping as these individuals greatly impact the healing of our patients,” said OHC medical oncologist and hematologist, Suzanne M. Partridge, MD.

Caregivers are unpaid loved ones who provide physical and emotional care to those in need. It is a role that one in five Americans have. According to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, a report presented by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP roughly every five years, there was an increase in the number of caregivers in the U.S. of 9.5 million from 2015 to 2020. And, these individuals are busy, spending an average of nearly 24 hours per week on the role. After dementia, cancer is the second most prevalent condition requiring caregiver assistance.

While being a caregiver can be rewarding, caregivers can often find themselves struggling to cope with a barrage of challenges and emotions including stress, fatigue, anxiety, and uncertainty. Kathy Carlisle of West Harrison, IN, is the loving caregiver of three OHC patients—her husband, Steve, and two of her sisters, Lola and Margaret. Both Steve and Lola receive treatment for their kidney cancer from OHC medical oncologist and hematologist David M. Waterhouse, MD, MPH. OHC’s Dr. Partridge treats Margaret for her multiple myeloma.

“If I can play one small part in making their lives easier, I feel rewarded,” said Kathy. “I have a large family, but for a while I was the only one available to drive Lola to her appointments. Dr. Waterhouse encouraged her to eat, so I would take her out to eat after her treatments. We shared some precious time together.” Now, Kathy spends most of her time caring for Steve. His stage 4 kidney cancer has metastasized to his bones, including his spine, so he has not walked on his own since July. He uses a wheelchair. “We had to install a deck and wheelchair lift at the back of our house,” said Kathy.

Kathy tries to keep life for Steve as normal as possible. He enjoys going to church and Brookville Lake. The couple recently enjoyed an outing to Meijer to buy Christmas presents for their grandson, whom they always enjoying seeing.

While some caregivers lose their sense of self, Kathy does not feel like she lost her identity. She credits her family who frequently reminds her that they are thinking of her and praying for her. She does admit to being physically tired and remembers finances causing some worry when they had to install the wheelchair lift. To cope, she often calls one of her sisters and her daughter-in-law who recently lost her father to cancer. “I like to go on my deck, look at the trees, and enjoy coffee,” said Kathy. “I pray and cry a lot. My neighbors have been a big help, and everyone at OHC has been wonderful. Tara, the financial navigator, is an absolute sweetheart, and Laressa at the front desk offers so much encouragement.”

“Being a caregiver requires sacrifice as they often significantly alter their lives to bring dignity to others,” said Dr. Partridge. “They should know that their encouragement helps patients stick with their treatment and focus on getting well. Kathy is a true example of love.”

Caregiver burnout is real. They can become physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. But, many caregivers, like Kathy, have found the role gratifying and report developing close relationships, having a greater appreciation for life, and developing more faith.

“Steve has made life so easy for me,” said Kathy, reflecting on her 37-year marriage. “He’s a godsend—the sweetest, most patient person.” Her voice cracks when she adds, “Why didn’t this happen to me instead?” It’s a question she asks every time she feels pressure and anxiety. “When I don’t feel strong, I pray and the anxiety is lifted.”

OHC’s cancer experts surround patients and their caregivers with an extra layer of support through a care team including advanced practice providers, financial navigators, and connections to cancer-specific support organizations. Our doctors offer the following helpful tips for cancer caregivers:

  • Educate yourself- form a good relationship with your healthcare team and use the National Cancer Institute (https://www.cancer.gov/) and American Cancer Society (https://www.cancer.org/) for helpful information
  • Be a strong advocate for your loved one- prepare for appointments by writing down your questions and concerns and consider getting a second opinion
  • Stay organized- consider using Lotsa Helping Hands (https://lotsahelpinghands.com/) to help coordinate care and communication
  • Ask for help because you cannot do it all alone- consider family, friends, sitter-companion services, volunteer visitors, and meal delivery services; OHC highly recommends Cancer Family Care (https://www.cancerfamilycare.org/) and Cancer Support Community (https://mycancersupportcommunity.org/) for the support services they offer to both patients and caregivers
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle- pay attention to your own nutrition and fitness, avoid isolation
  • Plan activities you enjoy- meet a friend for lunch or pursue a hobby

OHC partners with caregivers this month and always to ensure they have the support they need to provide optimum care to their loved ones while coping with the stress of a cancer diagnosis. To learn more about the comprehensive cancer care provided by OHC’s leading experts or to request a second opinion, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit ohcare.com.

Kathy and Steve Carlisle recently ordered custom “I will trust” T-shirts to proudly display the proverb that reminds them to draw strength from their faith.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *