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The American International Women’s Club has been a long-time supporter of ESCA, the English Speaking Cancer Association and its biggest fundraiser the Paddle For Cancer event on Sunday, September 3. We feel it is necessary to share this moving account (over two parts) recently published in ESCA’s magazine, of a caregiver ‘s experience with cancer, her challenges and how family members cope.

(continued from part one)

Many carers also have children to worry over. This is where outside support can be a blessing.

Kay and her husband had three children and on his sixtieth birthday he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Treatment was intensive and eventually burned his urethra causing urinary tract infections. As Kay recalls, “The first summer when he had eight weeks of chemotherapy and radiation and was very ill, friends invited my youngest son on a holiday to Croatia for a month. We were so glad he didn’t have to see his father suffer so much. Then my father took all three [sons] on a trip, which turned out to be an amazing bonding experience. That was definitely a good thing.”

The most conflicting issue carers face is accepting that they too need care. Cancer is an unpredictable disease that requires, on top of the household chores that are normally shared, nursing and entertaining while managing personal grief. Months can turn into years and while, for many, this is a good thing, it can also become too heavy and overwhelming. Many carers wrongfully assume that if they are looking after themselves, they are neglecting others. The need for personal time gets displaced by an irrational guilt because after all “it’s not you that has cancer so what are you complaining about.”

From the first International Conference on Compassion & Presence: Spiritual Care for the Living and the Dying, Kate learned about the importance of keeping a balance in one’s life. This was demonstrated using a sponge and a basin of water. “Give as much time as you are comfortable with, making sure that there are moments of rest for you, and set boundaries…before you are too tired and ‘drip’ resentment and negativity.”

For many, overcoming the stigma associated with self-preservation is achieved with the help of community support systems. “Despite his diagnosis, my husband still smoked and I was afraid of leaving him alone in case he started a fire. My neighbour became a big help, allowing me to go for walks, to have normal conversations,” says Patsy.

Kay also discovered that taking time for herself, going on a previously planned weekend trip with the girls, not only re-energized her but also took the pressure off her husband who, at times, felt like a burden.

Unfortunately the perception of inconvenience can prevent many people, patients and carers alike, from asking for help. For this reason, many of ESCA’s peer supporters are former primary carers; they know firsthand the difference outside support can have on the quality of life for those managing a life-threatening illness.

Counselling also helps unload the emotional weight of cancer, for both the carer and the patient. Having someone to listen and being able to communicate deep feelings in a familiar language is an important service that ESCA is proud to offer to those speaking English in Switzerland.

“The thing that helped the most in the last month, when the pain was horrible and he was in the hospital, was the ‘walks’ we went on. We would hold hands and he would tell me where he wanted to go and I would recreate a walk in the mountains, on the beach or wherever we had been together. I could always feel him relax, taken away from the pain.”

With carers, no one walks alone.

Cancer Support in Geneva

For more information about the English Speaking Cancer Association,

  • visit their website at https://www.cancersupport.ch/
  • attend the AIWC’s drop in coffee on Tuesday, October 3 at 10:30 when we will be discussing volunteer opportunities in Geneva, included a guest from ESCA.

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/

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