Providing care advice for carers, friends, and familyAug 13, 2021
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When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the focus is understandably on them - their fears, their experiences, and their physical, mental, and emotional needs. However, their loved ones, especially those who are in a position of providing care, also go through an extremely trying time and as therapists we are able to help support them as well.
Jennifer remembers a time when she worked at Guy’s Hospital, and when a person who had been diagnosed with cancer walked into the room, they would typically come in first with their carer following, and possibly carrying the bags. Many of us will recognise that visual, and it’s a perfectly reasonable state of affairs. However, it’s also a metaphor for the support role that carers, friends and family play - often disappearing into the background and not getting the support that they themselves need when going through an extremely worrying, tiring, even sometimes physically demanding time.
Caring for someone with cancer
Caring for someone with cancer can mean a wide variety of things. It might simply mean being around, being there to listen, playing taxi for the myriad of medical appointments or it might mean delivering some level of personal or medical care at home. It might also mean shouldering the full weight of household finances if the patient is unable to work. For many people, these things come on top of day jobs (or possibly meaning they need to take time off work), perhaps looking after children or parents, and running a household. That’s all before their own basic needs - sleeping, eating, washing, cooking, cleaning - leaving very little space for a good cry or an angry rant.
Leaving the time implications aside, many carers feel that as it’s not them experiencing cancer themselves, they have little right to ask for support because their needs are secondary. They can’t talk to the loved one who is unwell because they don’t want to burden or upset them, they may not have friends who really understand what they’re talking about, they might not want to ‘bore’ other people with it, and perhaps they don’t want every conversation to be about cancer, even though it’s occupying an enormous part of their mind.
Another nuanced challenge for loved ones, is that it can feel as though cancer creates a barrier between them and the person who is being treated. Suddenly, this elephant is in the room. Quality time with them becomes loaded in a way that can be hard to deal with. In effect, you can feel as though you have lost the person and the relationship you had with them ‘BC’, which in itself, is a complex set of emotions.
How therapists can help carers
When we talk about cancer in the spa world, we understandably focus on the patient. However, the knowledge that we gain through training in oncology touch treatments gives us the ability to empathise with carers, friends and family as well. When designing spa experiences with cancer patients in mind, there’s space to incorporate loved ones as well.
You might create packages that utilise dual treatment rooms and give individuals the chance to have the same treatment, simply adapted appropriately for individual needs, as you would on a regular spa day but only facilitated by your specialist knowledge. The result is a spa day that isn’t ‘for cancer patients’, but rather ‘adaptable for the individual’, providing an opportunity to simply spend time together and leave cancer at the door for a little while.
Equally, while some clients prefer not to talk in treatments, others find conversation part of the therapeutic process. We have written before about the importance of language when it comes to cancer, and this can apply to supporting loved ones too. If someone mentions a situation they’re experiencing with cancer, you can show that you are aware of the language they are using and give them licence to continue. You can show that you know your immunotherapy from your chemotherapy or that you understand the unwritten implications of having a stoma.
Nikki Spicer, Spa Director at Vita Skin Spa, has not only provided cancer support in her professional work, but has also experienced the need for carer support and how that can be provided by therapists, in her personal life. She says:
“I cared for my mum when she had her cancer diagnosis before she went into a hospice. That was just for a short and precious time, many others do it for a lot longer, but it was very all encompassing. You want to give everything to that person, but the saying is true - you have to look after yourself to be able to give your all to someone else. I think for carers getting time for yourself is very important. It doesn’t have to be in a spa. I like techniques like breathing, meditation and aromatherapy around the house - those are great as you don’t have to leave that person you’re looking after, but you can take a bit of time to recoup your energy before going back to caring.
In a spa environment, we have dual treatment rooms and will say to people to come in with their loved one who is going through cancer and have a treatment together so they’re both topping up their energy. We also have a relaxation room, and even if carers are not having a treatment, we say to them to come and have time in the relaxation room so they know we’re taking care of the person they love and they can use that time to switch off. When you’re caring for someone, you’re always thinking about where they are and what they need but if you know someone has that bit in hand, then you can switch off and think about yourself for a moment.”
How we can empower therapists to support carers
Cancer has a myriad of variables, and the treatments for it are changing and advancing every day. With one in two people projected to experience cancer at some point in their lives, it reasonably assumes that everyone will be the carer, friend or family member of someone with cancer at some point. That makes it inevitable that many clients of therapists will be on a cancer journey of their own. So, the ability to help, is not just a question of compassion for the client, but also the responsible way to empower therapists as well. It’s important to equip therapists with the tools they need to feel supported and supportive in their roles.
Of course, the ability to provide this level of support is not something that can be achieved in a single course or day. Therapists need a support network - a community where they can build confidence, get advice and ask questions. This need was highlighted in a different context in the pandemic, when therapists were left feeling their own way when it came to protecting clients and themselves from Covid-19. We introduced group discussions around risk assessment, and it’s that community that we provide at Jennifer Young Training, in addition to the qualifications themselves, when it comes to understanding cancer.
Today our membership offers therapists access to ongoing training opportunities as well as webinars, guidance, and, of course, you can always ask questions via our Facebook page. If you would like to join our regular discussions and hear about our latest training opportunities, sign up for our free newsletter. We’re always happy to answer questions and hear your thoughts.
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