NEW YORKJust deciding to go out for an evening can be a big
decision for someone taking care of a sick family member. The
caregiver can feel guilty or may not have anyone to take care of the
sick relative, or may simply feel too depressed to go out. The stress
may even affect the person the caregiver is striving so hard to care for.
Dominick Bonanno, CSW, a Cancer Care Inc. social worker and program
coordinator, had some advice about these common but painful decisions
during a Cancer Care teleconference for caregivers. His first
tipcaregivers also need to be care receivers, which includes
self-care or taking a break.
Theres always the question of whether to accept an
invitation or decline it. Its a judgment call, but if you want
to go, talk with the host or hostess about your particular needs and
establish a plan of action, he said.
As an example, Mr. Bonanno cited a woman whose teenage son is
seriously ill and in the hospital. She is invited to dinner. Part of
her wants to go even if its only for a couple of hours before
returning to the hospital, but shes afraid that while she is
there, she might break down and spoil the dinner for the other
This women needs to talk to the host or hostess, Mr.
Bonanno said. She could tell them she will go for a little
while, but that she may suddenly feel that she cant be with
people, that she may need to cry. She may want to go to a bedroom or
bathroom for some time alone without having to worry that people are
going to come after her and make a fuss.
Having that understanding beforehand, Mr. Bonanno said, allows the
caregiver to claim the safe emotional space he or she may need.
On the other hand, the caregiver should not be forced to go out by
well-meaning friends and family. Dont let yourself be
pushed into celebrating a holiday, for example, if you are not in a
cheerful mood, he said. If you feel emotionally or
physically drained, you may want to postpone hosting a holiday
dinner. Give yourself permission to postpone it, to set boundaries.
Caretakers also need to give themselves permission to take a break,
and the loved one may need a break from them, too. Did you and
your husband love to go out, but now that he has been diagnosed with
cancer, you dont leave the house? Do you feel you always have
to be there to protect him? Mr. Bonanno asked. If someone
calls and invites you somewhere, that may be the break that you need.
Or friends may offer to spend the day at your house so you wont
Use Support System Strategically
Having a support system, someone to fill in while the caretaker takes
a break or help in other ways, is of the utmost importance. Mr.
Bonanno advised caregivers to use their support system strategically.
You can cry on Aunt Susies shoulder, and shell be
calm and comfort you. Uncle Paul may not be able to do this, but he
could drive you to the hospital, Mr. Bonanno said. So in
your support system, find out peoples strengths and go for
those strengths. Dont expect people to do things that they may
not be able to dobecause youre setting yourself up for
disappointment. Dont try to make an Aunt Susie out of an Uncle
Reducing stress will give caretakers more patience, Mr. Bonanno said.
They will feel less resentment and less trapped. Good care
receiving will lead to good caregiving, he concluded.