As we wrap up Mental Health Month, we reflect on the many conversations we’ve seen around health, self-care, the importance of seeking support and more.
Today we focus 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 learned when she took on the role of caregiver for loved ones three times. And Nicole Lise Feingold, MA, PanCAN Senior Director of Patient Services, discusses the challenges and rewards of being a caregiver.
Lightening the load
“Most people who care for a sick person don’t think of themselves as caregivers,” said Jeanne Lipshetz, a PanCAN volunteer in Milwaukee, Wisc. “I, for one, was that person.”
In 2010, Jeanne became a caregiver not once but twice, for her mother and sister who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that year. When her husband Steve passed through a serious illness last year, she once again took on the role of caregiver.
In every situation, she took responsibility out of love for her family, not thinking too much about what she might need. Now, Jeanne said she realizes how important it is for caregivers to have support, too — and that it comes from a variety of people, from casual acquaintances to close friends and family.
Sometimes she found that what was thought to be helpful could add an extra burden or unnecessary 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 stay up most nights worrying about my loved one or shedding tears because you don’t want your loved one to see how stressed you really are. Instead, give some words of encouragement, give a compliment, give a hug. This means more than anything.”
Instead of: “Call me if you need anything.”
Try: Be proactive
“I’m overwhelmed, so everyday I probably won’t call anyone to ask for something.” I don’t have it in me. Instead say, “I have a meal or two for you both, what day of the week would be a good time to drop it off?”
Instead of, “What can I do to help?”
Try: Offer something specific
“Instead, say, ‘I have a few free hours this week or next week.’ I want to come and help with yard work, laundry, dusting, cleaning or picking up groceries.’ The caregiver will most likely take you up on one or more of the suggestions.”
Instead of: Ignoring
Try: Reach out
“Finally, please don’t ignore the topic. Caring can be lonely and exhausting. Reach out and always ask if they want to talk, go out for a cup of coffee, if you can help their loved one while the caregiver does something for themselves. With these examples, you can really lighten some of the burden they’re going through.”
Caring for caregivers
Nicole Lise Feingold, M.D., PanCAN’s senior director of patient services, characterizes pancreatic cancer caregivers as “family members, partners, close friends or anyone who helps a loved one battling the disease. Caregivers can help with daily activities such as preparing meals, running errands, and dispensing medications. They can coordinate doctor visits, provide transportation, or manage financial matters. Caregivers also provide critical emotional support.” Here, Nicole discusses some of the feelings carers can experience and ways they can take care of themselves.
It’s okay to be sad or frustrated
“Because caring is so multifaceted, it can be a huge responsibility.” Having a range of reactions to a role is perfectly 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.”
“Look for support and ask for help whenever you need it.” Use available resources. Set aside time each day to do self-care activities that revitalize you—anything from going for a run to get a cup of coffee, taking time to meditate, or reading a chapter in a book. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals and exercise daily. Self-care should be a priority. If you don’t take care of yourself properly, it’s harder for you to be there as a caregiver.”
As PanCAN sets an example
“PanCAN places tremendous value on the well-being of its staff as they help patients and families cope with pancreatic cancer. Not only do we model self-care, but we also normalize asking for help and asking for support by providing outlets for employees. One example is Wellness Wednesdays, which are run by experts on a range of topics. I lead a monthly meeting about sharing and caring for employees. We also recently created employee resource groups. Some of the groups developed so far include LGBTKIA+, Latinx and Working Parents. Taken together, all these efforts help ensure staff feel empowered to put their mental health and wellbeing first.”
PanCAN Patient Services can help
“Contact PanCAN Patient Services to speak to a case manager.” These compassionate professionals are available to discuss any questions or concerns. They can help find caregiver support groups in your area or online, and connect you with mental health professionals. PanCAN’s Survivor and Caregiver Network is also a great resource. Made up of 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.
Contact PanCAN Patient Services for free information and personalized one-on-one support for patients and caregivers.