As we wrap up Mental Health Month, we’re reflecting on the many conversations we’ve seen unfold around wellness, self-care, the importance of reaching out for support, and so much more.
Today, we’re focusing on caregivers and how important it is for them to prioritize their mental health. We heard from PanCAN volunteer Jeanne Lipshetz about some of the things she has learned when she has taken on the role of caregiver for loved ones three different times. And Nicole Lise Feingold, MA, Senior Director of PanCAN Patient Services, talks about the challenges and rewards of being a caregiver.
lightening the burden
“Most people who care for a sick loved one don’t consider themselves to be a caregiver,” said Jeanne Lipshetz, a PanCAN volunteer in Milwaukee, Wisc. “I, at least, was that person.”
In 2010, Jeanne became a caregiver not once, but twice, for her mother and sister, both of whom were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that year. When her husband, Steve, fell ill last year, she once again took on the role of caretaker.
In all situations, she took responsibility out of love for her family, without giving much thought to what she might need. Now, Jeanne said she realizes how important it is for caregivers to have support too — and that comes from a variety of people, from casual acquaintances to close friends and family.
At times, she found that what was considered helpful could add additional burden or undue stress – especially when she was exhausted and overwhelmed. Here, Jeanne shares some of the things she’s heard from those around her and offers suggestions for being more proactive and positive.
Instead of: “You look tired.”
Try: Words of Encouragement
“Yes, I’m tired. Probably too tired. I could have stayed up most of the night worrying about my loved one or shedding tears because you don’t want your loved one to see how stressed you really are. Instead, please please give some words of encouragement, give a compliment, a hug. It means more than anything.”
Instead of: “Call me if you need anything.”
Try: Be Proactive
“I’m overwhelmed, so on a day-to-day basis I probably won’t call anyone to ask for anything. I don’t have it in me. Instead say, ‘I have a meal or two for the two of you, what day this week would be good for me to leave you guys?’”
Instead of: “What can I do to help?”
Try: Offer something specific
“Instead say, ‘I have a few free hours this week or next. I want to come and help with gardening, laundry, dusting, cleaning or picking up groceries.’ The caregiver will likely accept one or more suggestions.
Instead of: Ignore
“Finally, please do not ignore the matter. Caring can be lonely and exhausting. Reach out and always ask if they would like to talk, go out for coffee, if you can help with their loved one while the caregiver does something for them. With these examples, you can really lighten some of the burden they are going through.”
Caring for Caregivers
Nicole Lise Feingold, MA, Senior Director, PanCAN Patient Services, characterizes pancreatic cancer caregivers as “family members, partners, close friends or anyone helping a loved one who is battling the disease. Caregivers can help with daily activities such as preparing meals, running errands, and dispensing medications. They may coordinate medical appointments, provide transportation, or manage financial matters. Caregivers also provide critical emotional support.” Here Nicole talks about some of the feelings caregivers can experience and how they can take care of themselves.
It’s OK to be sad or frustrated
“Because caring is so multifaceted, it can be an overwhelming responsibility. Having a range of reactions to paper is completely normal. It can be a rewarding experience that brings loved ones closer together. It can also be frustrating and lonely. All are valid emotions and you are not alone in feeling them.”
“Seek support and ask for help whenever necessary. Use available resources. Make time every day for self-care renewal activities that rejuvenate you—anything from running out for coffee, taking time out to meditate, or reading a chapter in your book. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and exercising daily. Self-care should be a priority. If you’re not taking care of yourself properly, it’s harder for you to be there as a caregiver.”
As PanCAN sets an example
“PanCAN highly values the well-being of its employees as they help patients and families dealing with pancreatic cancer. Not only did we model self-care, but we also normalized help-seeking and asking for support by providing employees with outlets. One example is Wellness Wednesdays, which are facilitated by experts on a variety of topics. I facilitate a monthly sharing and caring meeting with employees. We also recently created Resource Groups for Employees. Some of the groups developed to date include LGBTQIA+, Latinx and Working Parents. Together, all of these efforts help ensure employees feel empowered to put their mental health and well-being first.”
PanCAN Patient Services can help
“Contact PanCAN Patient Services to speak with a case manager. These compassionate professionals can talk to you about any questions or concerns. They can help find caregiver support groups in your area or online, as well as connect you with mental health professionals. The PanCAN Survivors and Caregivers Network is also a great resource. Staffed with volunteers across the country who are available to communicate one-on-one with those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or their loved ones, finding someone to talk to is a quick phone call or email away.”