Healthy Lung Month: The Role of a Caregiver

IFA Guest Blogger: Lauren Eaton, Communications Specialist with The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA). The MAA Center brings attention to the dangers of asbestos and the deadly form of cancer it causes: mesothelioma. They are an independent group working to help mesothelioma patients, caregivers, advocates and others looking to learn more about the disease.

The lungs play a role in the entire functionality of the body, ranging from simply breathing to how blood flows. Awareness is important year-round, but the month of October prompts the public to pay close attention in honor of Healthy Lung Month. With that in mind, now is a pertinent time to be aware of lung-related illnesses and how caregivers are affected.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. In 2016, 148,945 people died of lung cancer in the United States alone and the American Cancer Society estimates that 154,050 people will die as a result of the cancer this year. However, there are several other types of lung-related illnesses, ranging from COPD to mesothelioma, that are prevalent in older people. While symptoms of COPD may appear around age 40, the long latency period for mesothelioma often results in a later in life diagnosis and presents patients with poor prognoses.

Symptoms of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, often don’t present themselves until 10-50 years following exposure. This is especially worrisome because it leads to the majority of those diagnosed being older people, who have less treatment options due to age and other health issues.

Caregiving is important, but the responsibilities can cause distress for those they fall on. The role is taxing and often falls onto family, which may lead to strained relationships. As loved ones age, it’s natural to worry about their well-being and, unfortunately, things aren’t made better following a cancer diagnosis. To ensure you’re able to help your loved one to your best ability, there are a few things that you should do, including:

Speak with your loved one’s doctor. Being aware of the medications your loved one is prescribed, as well as when they should take them and how often, is one of the most crucial aspects of the role. A cancer diagnosis is often accompanied by extended periods of anxiety or depression, which can become a hindrance to a patient’s motivation to commit to routine treatment and care. As a caregiver, your responsibilities may include monitoring the patient’s symptoms, dosage and persuading him or her to go to doctor’s appointments when unwilling. Understanding every aspect of his or her diagnosis beforehand can be extremely beneficial in the long run.

Be ready for what’s ahead. Caring for someone with a respiratory illness is difficult. A caregiver should be aware of the main symptoms and side effects of both the illness and the treatment prior to taking on the role of caregiving. Among others, these types illnesses lead to symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, constant cough and weight loss without trying. Treatments, including chemotherapy, are tied to side effects including weight loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and changes in appetite.

Taking care of your own mental and physical health is a crucial part of being a caregiver, and is often overlooked. Caring for someone else often leads to people not caring for themselves. Regular exercise, consulting a professional and continuing to see your doctor are all great places to start.

Caregiving for someone as they age and through a cancer diagnosis is a selfless act. Before taking it on and while doing so, knowing what the role entails, how your loved one will be affected and what you can do to take care of yourself are highly important.

Keep in mind: your loved one is not a statistic. Prognoses can change and cancer treatment is advancing faster than ever, giving patients and caregivers a hope they’ve never had before.

 

“From caring comes courage.” — Lao Tzu