In March 2017, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and my life inevitably changed from that point onwards. Looking back, I can almost draw a line and split my life into two parts: the first part, where I never really knew much about cancer and how it can affect your life, and the second part, where a completely different lifestyle consumed me, with the impact of cancer on relationships, work, and finances.
As my mum started chemotherapy, she developed sepsis, which impacted her mobility and confidence, and highlighted how important my support to her was. Three months after she was diagnosed, other than needing assistance with her treatment, she also needed help with her doctor’s appointments as she didn’t speak English, and there were MANY appointments. So I reduced my working hours to part-time and became her carer.
Being a carer required stamina to help her with the housework, cooking and cleaning, organisation for her many medications and appointments, and an element of medical knowledge– like being able to differentiate between side-effects or symptoms of infections, etc. Being a carer is demanding, both physically and emotionally. I learnt that it was just as important to take care of myself as it was to take care of her—which is actually a lot easier said than done.
Support from family and friends. - When friends or family ask you if they can do anything for you, take them up on the offer and tell them exactly what it is you need and why. It's important to share the load, and there's no better time to call on favours than at this point. It can be anything, big or small, from wanting a well-deserved day off to picking up some things at the supermarket. Now is not the time to be shy and hold back. Now is the time to be selfish and ask for things that you need. True family and friends will understand this and accommodate you as much as they can.
Your Local GP/ Health Practitioner - With medical advances, we find that people are living longer, and as a result, a large percentage of the population has taken up caring responsibilities supporting a loved one who is elderly, disabled or seriously ill. Carers’ often seamlessly take on these roles with no guidance, training or expertise, and yet the responsibility is immense. It's therefore important to have the support of your GP or health practitioner should you require advice. Make sure you have a single GP and be vocal about your needs; tell them that you need their support and assistance navigating this new role.
Nurture your body - When we are unhappy or busy, we tend to gravitate towards the unhealthy foods, chocolate, crisps and snacks, or quick and easy meals that unfortunately tend to lack the nutrition you need in order to remain strong and healthy. A healthy body is a strong body with energy to sustain the lifestyle required to care for someone. You're also less likely to get sick if your body is strong, and as a carer, I was so busy every day that I didn't feel like I could afford to be ill. Staving off illnesses also puts the person you're caring for at less risk. A common cold may be harmless to some, but for either the elderly or someone with a terminal illness, it may be extremely harmful and you're best staying clear of anyone that be vulnerable.
Exercise - performing short bursts of exercise, such as 10 mins light areobics can stimulate the heart and get the blood pumping through the body. I often find when I have exercised that I feel stronger both physically and mentally. Exercise also has a positive impact on depression, anxiety and generally makes you feel better about yourself.
Nurture your mind - shortly after my mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I started my blog cancercarerchats.blogspot.com. At the time, I felt there was very little information online about real people overcoming and living with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. So I started writing about it myself. After a while, it became a place where I found other people going through similar experiences and it made me feel better. There are others out there. My blog became both my distraction and my light relief. It's important to talk to have an outlet for your feelings rather than bottle it all inside.
During my time as my mother's carer, I learnt a lot about self-care and what that means. Though we think taking care of ourselves seems reasonably easy, it is actually a lot more difficult than we think. When my mother passed away, a friend asked me what I was going to do now and I said I was going to concentrate on myself for a little while, start learning how to take care of myself again and he looked confused, as if being able to take care for myself was such a simple thing, surely you don't have to take the time to find out how to do that? But I did; as a carer, we learn to look after someone else but if anyone needs to be a little bit selfish, surely it's someone who has dedicated their life to looking after a loved one.