This journey must be initiated with a single decision; when to step in and become a caregiver. What questions can help you determine if this is the appropriate time to step in? Try these on for size:
Is there an onset of a new disease or ailment? What is the diagnosis?
What is the prognosis? Will this be a slow onset/progression, or will the individual deteriorate at a quick rate?
What are the symptoms of this ailment? Are the symptoms controllable?
Can this individual still do ALL the daily activities he or she was able to do before the onset of this ailment?
Once you have these questions answered, you should have an idea to what extent this person will be needing help. Are we dealing with a young woman with Stage I breast cancer who will only require a ride to and from the treatment facility? Or are we dealing with an eighty-four year old man with the onset of Alzheimer’s who will need frequent supervision and eventually the possibility of assisted living? Both scenarios are very real and prove how large the spectrum of caregiving truly is.
In my case, my mother was relatively healthy and able to manage most of her daily activities on her own when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Basic needs like laundry, doing the dishes and grocery shopping were easily attainable. What she was not able to do was drive to and from her treatments. The chemo therapy made her feel terrible and she did not feel comfortable driving afterwards. She also had no desire to prepare a meal after the treatment. Therefore, it was my responsibility to ensure she made it to and from her appointment, and that dinner was prepared on treatment days. Other than that, I was available when she needed me, including listening in on doctor’s appointment and unloading heavy groceries.
After a few months of chemo-radiation-surgery-radiation-chemo treatments, she was given a clean bill of health. It wasn’t until two years later that the need for a full time caregiver was necessary.
She had been having back pain for months. The doctors continued to suggest massage, as the back pain must have been from the reconstructive surgery of her breasts. Unfortunately, the doctors were incorrect. The pain was from breast cancer metastasis that had attacked her spine, rib cage and pelvis. This time the prognosis was grim…she had 3 months to live.
After answering the questions above, it was clear she needed a full time caregiver. There was no way she was going to be able to continue all her daily activities as she had in the past. She was downright breakable! Her pain symptoms could be controlled, but it took enough pain medication to tranquilize a horse; being on that amount of pain medication made her loopy and a threat to herself. No driving. No cooking. No laundry. No freedom… She was a prisoner in her own body.
I moved home immediately and took over as her primary caregiver. I began by organizing her medications by creating a chart bases on the times she needed to take them. I kept her doctor appointment scheduled, made sure she made it to her treatments and even took over as bookkeeper of my father’s construction company. It was important to my mom that everything ran just as it had before she needed help, and that is just what I did.
Answer the questions above and discuss with your loved ones what the best, viable option for the situation is. Every scenario is different and must be decided among those who it affects the most. Remember, the right decision is not always the easiest decision.