Caregiving and Decision Making

Facing cancer for the Thriver or for the caregiver is never easy.  It doesn’t matter what type of cancer has been diagnosed or if the caner is localized, (confined to one organ), or if it has progressed and moved outside an organ. It doesn’t matter whether the cancer diagnosis is an initial diagnosis or if the cancer has recurred.  It doesn’t matter if the cancer is a first cancer or if it is a second cancer, dealing with cancer is never easy. 

When someone you care about has been diagnosed with cancer you and the cancer thriver will need to find your way to a new normal.  The new normal will required that you deal with a new way to live your life.  Possibly, you will need to incorporate into your life both major and minor physical changes, psychological concerns, changes in your daily routines, treatment side effects, direct effects of the cancer itself as well as social issues.  Experience tells us that you will have both good times and as well as hard times.

If the thriver has had a recurrence of their cancer, or if this is a second diagnosis and you were with them during that experience, you have already gained some good experience that you can use this round.  If you were not with your loved one when they had their first experience with a cancer diagnosis you will need to explore with them the things that did and did not work well in the past. Together, you both will need to learn how to flourish and thrive with your new situation, your new normal.

Your First Steps

For some individuals this might be the most difficult, but also the most important task you will need to tackle.  Find a way to open and then maintain complete and honest communication, find a way to share your feelings and concerns about what both of you are facing. 

Emotional honesty including expressions of your feelings are required.  It is a fact that if you honestly share your true emotional feelings, if you allow yourself to cry, laugh, debate, explore, argue, and worry each other you will feel a greater sense of connection and understanding with each other. If you openly express and share your emotions with each other you will come out of the experience much closer, stronger, both personally and as a couple.  If you find that this is too hard to do by yourself, many of us will find this the case, reach out and get the assistance of a counselor and join a well-run support group.

Re-prioritize Together – Both about Yourself and the Cancer Thriver

Spend time to help each other think seriously about both of your priorities. Explore and discuss what is most important to both of you? How do the two of you want to spend your time, this is important no matter if you believe that the cancer has limited your time or not?  Decide who are the people that matter most in your lives?  Figure out if there are things that you want to accomplish, places you wish to see or tasks that remain uncompleted.  Then decide which of these are most important and do them.

Make shared decisions that take into account both of your hopes and wishes, family needs, finances, available support and resources.   You, as a caregiver are just as important as the cancer thriver.  Both of you need to live a fulfilled and happy life.  

Often, you might find that you have different positions about issues, but both of you are important.  The cancer thriver might want to retire from work and travel, you might be worried about your finances.   One of you might want to keep the diagnosis a secret from everyone, the other might want to share it with a few close friends or family members or possibly one of you decides that you would prefer to be very public. These differences are very common. Expressing them and understanding the other’s concerns and wishes will help to forge your common path, a path that will allow both of you to find compromises that might not be ideal but will work for the both of you.   

It is important to talk out these differences so that you both eventually land on the same path.  One important key to remember while building the common path is to find ways to respect the other’s opinions and find ways to compromise.  Compromise needs to be an open, two-way street.  Compromise needs to be fluid, decisions should be able to be changed and be adaptable to changing situations and circumstances.

Decisions Should Be Able to Be Changed and Adaptable to Changing Situations and Circumstances

Cancer ABCs strongly believes that ultimately the final decision, especially for any treatment decision, belongs to the cancer thriver.  This does not mean that your opinions aren’t also very important.  You need to always be honest about all your thoughts and feelings, let the Thriver know what they are, but find a way to support their final decision, even if you don’t agree.  

Generally, it is not a good idea to make any major changes as a quick, knee jerk type response to the diagnosis or to disease progression. The best decisions are made when you give yourselves time to get in touch with the facts.  Remember, many decisions are reversible, so reconsider and re-evaluate those that aren’t working out as you and the Thriver had anticipated. 

It takes time to adapt to new situations.  Take your time, adapt and adjust, you will then be in a better position to know what you need and want to do.