A cancer diagnosis creates emotional and psychological turmoil for the entire family. Life is drastically altered – it becomes immersed in all-that-is-cancer. Having the right type of respite care is a life jacket that provides temporary support. Whether in-home, outside, informal or formal, respite care is the “extra lift” that keeps your head above water.
This week, I returned from my first respite. It took a bit of planning to make it happen and re-entry has been a bit rough; yet, I’m grateful I had the chance to take a break. In a comfortable space surrounded by friendship, I had time to reflect and reconnect with me, while knowing things at home were covered. Here’s what I learned:
I felt – everything.
I was excited to get away, to laugh with friends, to relax and have fun. And I did. We had dinner out and caught a jazz show, ate our way through the farmer’s market, cooked yummy meals, went to the beach and explored the local shops. We walked everywhere – with a dog, of course.
Seeing couples enjoying dinner out and walking down the streets together reminded me of what our “normal” used to be. I was acutely aware of how my life and our marriage has changed. Allowing myself to feel that loss was an acknowledgment, dare I say, acceptance that what is, is. And, not all of it is bad. I remind myself he is living with cancer, these feelings are normal and we have choices. I remain hopeful and allow myself to grieve what no longer is.
I embraced not having ANY responsibilities.
I slept; I read a lot; I got up slowly. Respite care offers caregivers a sense of freedom and lightness when not bound by doctor appointments, medication schedules, and daily caregiving duties. We are surrounded by cancer at home. I’m used to seeing the physical responses to treatment and making adjustments in my day to compensate for what’s happening at home. The break allowed me to rest, it fueled my positivity bucket and helped reinvigorate my creativity to solve the challenges that lie ahead.
Re-entry requires courage and compassion.
Getting back into the swing of things after vacation can be tough. I try to keep that “vacation mindset” going as long as I can…it usually lasts 24-48 hours until I wind up in a silly meeting or read an annoying email. Re-entry after a respite feels quite similar. There’s a routine already established for day-to-day caregiving and catching up with work and home details are a part of the mix. Thankfully, I felt rested and ready.
While away, Jeff was admitted to the hospital (more info). We spoke every morning before the doctors made their rounds. He was discharged several days before I returned and friends that were providing care had it covered. My hope was that I was coming home to stability. I returned to a fragile situation (tip: expect the unexpected – things can change on a dime with meds, treatment, etc.). So, I got the bone broth out of the freezer, unpacked my suitcase, and jumped into the role of the detective so that together, we could find steady ground.
Respite Care Resources – all FREE of charge:
In the search for respite care options, I came across several organizations and programs that provide free and/or affordable solutions. Some programs provide families with a well-deserved break from cancer and are fully-covered financially by generous supporters. I like that these organizations offer programs that improve the quality of life for the entire family.
- For Pete’s Sake, Take a Break from Cancer – one-week, expense-paid, respite vacation
- Little Pink Houses – free week-long retreats for breast cancer survivors and their family
- Camp Good Days and Special Times – summer camp experiences for children and families
- Camp Kesem – respite for children whose parents are affected by cancer
- Harmony Hill – healing and survivorship retreats for adults, including metastatic cancer.
- Resource: List of other retreat options – free and paid options (Foundation for Women’s Cancer)
- Resource: 8 Types of Respite Care – info on in-home and outside respite care options (Caring.com)
Why Secondhand Cancer
SHC was created to equip cancer caregivers with real-life perspective, practical tools, and resources that allow them to better cope with the daily demands of living in a house where cancer exists.
Cancer caregiving is a demanding and isolating job – no one can do it alone. We tap into the seasoned caregiving community to offer different insights on managing the “cancer journey” with strength, courage, and compassion. We encourage those supporting a loved one battling this disease to retain (and regain) a quality of life that celebrates their individuality – and not solely as co-survivors and caregivers. And that no matter how challenging the experience becomes, there are solutions – there is help.