Cancer Caregiver Advice from our CanPlan Intern

Cancer Caregiver Advice from our CanPlan Intern

My name is Sarina and I’ve been interning with CanPlan for the past few months. It has honestly been such a rewarding experience as I have a personal connection with cancer that made this experience all the more meaningful. Both my grandma and uncle were diagnosed with cancer while I was growing up and their experiences as well as my experiences with them have greatly impacted my life.

My grandma was first diagnosed with lung cancer when I was born. Since they caught it early, she was able to remove a part of her lung – removing the tumor almost immediately. There was always the possibility that the cancer would come back, and it did. When I was in middle school I remember her needing to go to treatment every week. She would come home sick, throwing up and unable to eat anything. Her hair started to fall out as her body slowly deteriorated. It was hard to watch. Still, she fought on until finally the doctor said that the treatment was working and she would go into remission. Unfortunately that didn’t last for long. Halfway through high school, the cancer came back. This time, unsure if my grandma was strong enough to undergo treatment again, the doctors opted for experimental drugs. They worked for a short while but eventually she had to go through another round of treatment. Now in college, I was fully able to understand the impact this cancer was having on my grandma’s quality of life. It was hard for me to watch her slowly lose her will to live. She kept questioning why she was still alive which was hard for family to hear. She is still struggling today, trying to cope with the emotional toll cancer has taken on her life. Part of the reason for this is my uncle passed away after being diagnosed with sarcoma a few years ago. For my grandma, watching her child pass away before her was hard to comprehend. In my uncle’s case, he refused radiation or chemotherapy opting to live out his life the way he wanted. He tried different holistic treatments and really identified with the practice of Reiki. It was interesting for me to see two people take such different approaches to dealing with their cancer. My grandma went the medical route seeking treatment, pills, and anything science etc could provide and my uncle on the other hand sought out holistic treatments, opting to live out the rest of his life the way he wanted instead of subjecting himself to multiple treatments and chemotherapy.

Through these experiences I have learned so much. First, I learned that everyday is a blessing – you never know when it could be your last and therefore surround yourself with people who are important and don’t waste time stressing about the little things. Secondly, I’ve learned that while we all have our own opinions about how other people should live their lives – it is most important to realize that it is their life and they are capable of deciding what is best for them. The prime example for this is with my uncle. When he refused to go through treatment, my grandpa was extremely upset, wondering why he would forsake science in the pursuit of a holistic treatment. However, this was what my uncle wanted and what made him happy and therefore the knowledge that we supported his decisions was ultimately more meaningful to him. Lastly, from the perspective of a caregiver, I’ve learned that the only way to truly help someone is to take care of yourself. There is no way you can give the best care to someone if you haven’t taken enough time for self-care. You can become resentful and lose sight of why you want to help them or become overwhelmed by all the new responsibilities. It is important to schedule some “me time” because then you’ll be able to go back with a positive and refreshed attitude.