We all know what a caregiver is. So what is a Co-Survivor? It’s a new term that takes caregiver to a different level. Co-survivors provide care, but also provide practical help like cleaning and cooking, as well as much-needed emotional support. They are usually family members, spouses or partners, friends, colleagues, and yes, even health care providers. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve already become a co-survivor. Someone you love or care for has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and you are now thrown into a new role to help support them as they fight to survive and thrive. It is not an easy task, by any means. And it’s a learning process. But if you’re like most people, you want to do the best you can to help your loved one through this journey. You’ll need knowledge, patience, resources, and support of your own to do so.
1. Provide social and emotional support
Unfortunately, most of the time, life-threatening illnesses are the result of a cancer diagnosis—and everyone reacts to such a diagnosis differently. The patient reacts, and so do the surrounding people: their boss, their children, their friends and neighbors. Sure, it’s important to embrace whatever emotions and feelings you have at that time. But it’s vital you also consider how the person who has received the diagnosis feels. Can you put yourself in their shoes? Incomprehensible. Imagine how they’re feeling? Unimaginable. However, while you may not be able to fully understand their unique position, one thing’s for sure: they need your support. By reaching out to someone who is battling a life-threatening illness (or injury!), you’re providing them with much-needed help. It can help reduce their anxiety and depression. Your support can help improve their mood, self-image, coping ability and feelings of “not being in control.” Your support can make all the difference.
At first, you may not know what to say to your care recipient—and that’s perfectly fine. Your friend or loved one isn’t looking to you for the “perfect” words. If you’re at a loss of words, tell them that. Your honesty will be appreciated, as opposed to being too nervous to reach out or never calling or writing them. A call, email, text or Get Well card are some ways to communicate your support. Remember, “I’m thinking of you” never gets old.
It’s important to ask your loved one what you can do for them. Maybe it’s just doing a grocery run every week. Or stopping by for a 30-minute visit. Maybe it’s organizing a group of friends or colleagues to provide meals on a regular basis. A cancer patient may not have the energy to figure out exactly WHAT assistance they need, so instead of asking a broad question like, “How can I help?” ask “Do you have all of your meals prepared for the day?” Can I take care of the yard work?” What they really want is to get back to “normal,” so think beyond the essentials. Are there any holidays or special events coming up? Offer to decorate their home, so they get a sense of normalcy. Does your survivor have a green thumb, but it seems that their potted flowers are struggling to stay green? Put on your gardening gloves and get to work! Lend a helping hand.
4. Ask again
Every survivor (and co-survivor) needs a network of support. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family members, church members and colleagues for help as you care for your patient. Ask for help with regular meals, or providing transportation to doctor’s appointments. Ask for someone to relieve YOU for several hours, so you can run your errands, go to the store or just go to a movie, take a walk or relax. You need to take care of yourself, so you can take care of your patient.
5. Be a health care advocate
You’re not a doctor, but you may wish you were in this situation. It may feel like the oncologist is speaking gibberish, and it can be frustrating not understanding everything that they’re trying to convey. Or, maybe you understand the terminology, but are slow to absorb and internalize all the information that’s being given. Take notes, so you can absorb the information at your own pace, or share with other concerned friends and family members. Cancer diagnosis is complicated and having a second set of ears during doctor visits is extremely helpful. Invite another family member to come along to take notes.
Care recipients will consume the information at their own pace, so that’s why it’s important to stay abreast of health news and updates. Online research is extremely helpful in understanding an illness as a co-survivor and as a survivor. Reading about other people’s journeys can be helpful, too. Yes, everyone’s story is different, but there will be relatable similarities, as well. You are not alone!
6. Ask questions
Before you attend doctor’s visits with your patient, ask what questions your patient and other family members may have. Write down any questions you may have about the treatment, side effects and limitations.
7. Ask for financial assistance
When someone is fighting cancer, bills can add up. Sometimes it’s difficult to pay bills on time, or find the funds to pay them at all. If medical costs and living expenses continue to pile up, you may feel like you’re in a hopeless situation. That makes it even more difficult to provide the level of care and understanding needed by your patient.
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American Life Fund is one of the leading providers of this service, which can help you and your loved one make the most of their remaining days. You can learn more about this process by calling 877-707-3216 FREE to speak with an American Life Fund counselor.
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