Caregiving, Cancer, & the Coronavirus

Woman looking out window with face mask on

Written by: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, UW-Extension & Caregiver.

Caregiving is Difficult Enough

Caregiving is difficult enough but the uncertainty of the coronavirus adds another hurdle to overcome. As a caregiver living with my adult son who has colon cancer, I am personally experiencing how the coronavirus impacts my everyday schedule and life under the stay at home mandate.

Before the coronavirus I limited my time away from home so I was at hand to care for my son. I was busy doing household chores, providing hands on care, administering medications and whatever else was needed. There were few trips outside of the house except for grocery shopping, medical appointments, and other “have to” errands.  These trips provided a break in my daily routine and time for myself.  I didn’t think about getting sick or limiting them.

Then the Coronavirus Hit

My already limited exposure to the outside world became even more restricted. I found myself looking for ways to limit exposure of my son and myself as both of us were in a high-risk group.  My son is in the high-risk group because of his cancer and myself because of my age. We are concerned how we would manage if one of us became sick and if one of us were hospitalized. When the coronavirus first hit our state, I limited my trips out and if my son came with me, he never got out of the car except for his medical appointments.  I began to worry about not getting the supplies we needed (toilet paper, sanitized wipes, yeast, and flour) as the store was continually out of them.  Early one morning I ventured out, to stand in line for toilet paper, disinfectant, sanitized wipes and Kleenex at a local store who had senior hours and they were expecting a shipment that morning.  This was an experience! Arriving over a half hour early I was still number 15 in line.  There was staff outside to inform those of us in line how the process was going to work and to tell non-seniors they couldn’t come in early. Once we were in the store, they gave us a wiped down cart and kept us in line as we followed the person in front of us leading to piles or shelves of hard to find products. I picked out what we needed (only one per person) without even looking at the price. I have to admit I did purchase a few things I already had thinking they would be used in the near future. After getting my items I could shop the rest of the store but decided to limit my exposure in the store and decided to go home. Once I was home, everything was wiped down to ensure it was safe. I gave a sigh of contentment that we had what we needed for at least a couple of weeks.

Limiting Social Interactions

We thought our confinement and limited trips were keeping us safe but then the numbers of local cases began to rise and health care providers were recommending at risk individuals should not go out at all.  In order to limit our chances of being infected I checked out grocery delivery services and pick-up services, reviewed the list of restaurants who deliver and canceled any appointment (dentist, hair, etc.) that wasn’t essential.

I found ordering groceries easy but frustrating as they couldn’t shop for us for at least a week.  On the day of our pick-up I was glued to my phone communicating with the shopper on substitutes for items not available, adding items I had forgotten to order and realized how many items weren’t available.

But it was relatively easy and cut down our exposure to people.

Social Distancing with My Care Receiver

As time passes in the stay at home mandate, I find myself using my phone more sending notes, reading the news, and playing games. The TV is constantly on and I watch programs I never dreamed of watching including some trending programs and now I can relate to comments on Facebook or in messages.  My son and I have different TV viewing likes but find things we can watch together each night.

My son and I have commented numerous times that the stay at home mandate has provided insight to family and friends on how we have lived during the past 18 months. Somehow the stay at home mandate has been wearing on me because being ordered to stay at home and the dangers of if I don’t follow that order has made me feel even more isolated. I tried various coping strategies to beat the lonely feelings and recognized the need to have a daily schedule. I started working on a photo book I had put off doing for years, got involved in a weekly on-line Bible study and reached out to friends with cards, texts, and messages.

From One Caregiver to Another During this Crazy Pandemic

The coronavirus has changed my life but it also made me explore ways to survive. Having knowledge about family caregiving is both a blessing and a curse. I knew I needed to find coping strategies that worked within the coronavirus limitations. The bottom line is, as caregivers we know ourselves and know the importance of taking care of ourselves so we can care for others.  All caregiver journeys encounter bumps in the road that must be overcome. When you encounter these bumps take time to notice your reactions and think about ways to care for yourself and build on your strengths. Don’t forget the importance of reaching out to others who can and will help you.  Realize you are in control of your reaction to the bumps and there are solutions.  Be creative and think out of the box as you navigate your caregiver journey.

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