June 9, 2023
5 Minutes

My Loved One Is Diagnosed with a Serious Illness: What Does That Mean for Me?

Azi Doost

It means that your life will change.

Suddenly a title that felt so simple – daughter, partner, chosen family, brother – is overshadowed by a new one: caregiver.

Whether you identify as one or not, chances are, you already are.

Have you been worried about your loved ones’ symptoms? Was their diagnosis made possible by your advocacy? Do you go with them to the doctors, and sit outside during tests and scans? Are you all too familiar with the term ‘scanxiety’? Do you call in to check on them from afar? Are you here looking for support? Did you say yes to any of these questions?

If so, you are already a caregiver, so wear it with pride.

Daughter, Caregiver.
Partner, Caregiver.
Chosen family, Caregiver.

Your instincts may lead you to all things practical – researching everything there is to know about their illness, scheduling appointments, getting second and third opinions, looking for treatments, calling their insurance, planning finances and giving way to this overwhelming feeling that you are no longer in control.

Take a moment. Breathe out that heavy breath you’ve held on to for some time. Breathe in a fresh one. And before you put your planning hat and your new caregiver badge on, set the stage to care for the caregiver – you.

Caregiving doesn’t come with a manual. It looks and feels different for everyone, but it’s fair to say that it will change your life.

It will throw you off balance.
It will take a toll on your finances.
It will dare you to put yourself last.
It will reshape your relationships.
It will transform your circle.
And it will change your life.

⬜ It will throw you off balance, until off balance becomes your solid ground.

Caregiving is an unpredictable, ever-changing role, and it’s bound to take time away from your work.

Let your work know that your performance may alter and that you would appreciate some grace. Put some contingencies in place for when you urgently need the afternoon or the day off. Some workplaces have employee benefits in place for informal caregivers (that’s you!) so make sure to ask about it. If your employer doesn’t allow that flexibility, look into taking some unpaid time off or reach out to social workers to enquire about resources like respite care.

⬜ It will take a temporary toll on your finances.

The financial pressure caused by your new work schedule is often too much for anyone to shoulder alone. There are official financial benefits available for caregivers – either in the form of extended paid leave, caregiver allowance, or compensation for loss of work. Check to see if there are any benefits that apply to you.

You can also always draw on the kindness of charities, strangers, extended family, and friends for some financial relief. Be it in the form of a monetary donation or just fulfilling an amazon wish-list you had set-up. Even the smallest gestures can help.

⬜ It will dare you to put yourself last. Resist it.

Caregiving can take a toll on your physical, emotional and mental well-being. Don’t wait until you’re at (or over) the edge of burnout to take some time for yourself. Prevent it. What do you need to be able to fully relax? A walk in nature, journaling, spa time, exercising or listening to your favourite podcast? Whatever it may be, make time for some guilt-free self care, so you can be there for your loved one in return.

⬜ It will reshape, but often, deepen your relationships.

Lean on your partner, family and friends, and let yourself be cared for. Let them know that your social life will change, but that you’d like to hold on to some of its elements. Ask them to plan game nights, walk with you to your favourite coffee spot, invite you over for home-cooked meals or anything else that helps you keep a sense of normalcy in your life.

Resist the urge to brush off help when it’s offered, and make a list of things you could use a hand with. Anything from babysitting duties, to home cleaning or grocery shopping. So the next time you’re asked “how can I help?”, you can sidestep the impulse to tell them “It’s fine”.

⬜ It will transform your circle into a much bigger one.

Millions of people have been where you are before. Millions more will become the caregivers of tomorrow… It’s a confronting feeling, finding relief in the shared reality of others.

The strangers of reddit, familiar faces of facebook, and the caregivers of the world tend to be incredibly generous with their time and vulnerable with their stories. Find your virtual village. Lean on them.

There is support much closer to home as well. Seek out specialised medical care teams, volunteer organisations, support groups, social workers, and other initiatives that are in place, with the sole purpose to help you.

⬜ It will change your life. And at its highs and lows, it will make your presence more meaningful.

Caregiving is by no means a glossy job, and it’s impossible to sugar coat. You’ll probably feel every emotion there is to feel: exhausted, scared, ambivalent, angry, emotionally drained,…But anybody who’s held the title before will tell you one thing: They would do it again in a heartbeat.

Caregiving will see your strength and raise it anew everyday. It will defy your bounds of unconditional love and show you what giving looks like when wanting nothing in return.‍

Before you go … take another deep breath. You’ve got this.

And we’ve got you.