Behind almost every person coping with advanced prostate cancer is a dedicated caregiver. The role of caregiver involves a wide range of responsibilities. Some are as basic as driving him to doctor appointments and preparing meals. Others are complex, such as managing finances and providing emotional support in the face of an uncertain future.
Caregivers also serve as the major link between a man with prostate cancer, his loved ones, and health care providers. Caregivers need to stay informed about the man's health status and share this information with friends and family members. They also need to learn about upcoming treatments. No formal training can prepare you for the enormous role of caregiver. But you can make the task more manageable. Read on to learn how.
There are no warning signs of early prostate cancer. Once a tumor causes the prostate gland to swell, or once cancer spreads beyond the prostate, the following symptoms may happen:
A frequent need to urinate, especially at night
Difficulty starting or stopping a stream of urine
A weak or interrupted urinary stream
Leaking of urine when laughing or coughing
Inability to urinate standing up
A painful or burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
Blood in urine or semen
When it comes to effective care giving for prostate cancer, "information is power," says Bonnie Teschendorf, PhD, former director for Quality of Life of the Cancer Control Science Department at the American Cancer Society. "When families learn more about how to gather relevant information about the disease, they feel more in control. They can manage the situation better from day to day."
Accompany your loved one to the clinic. This is an excellent way to learn important information. "Some people tape record visits or take notes in a spiral bound notebook," Teschendorf suggests. Come prepared with questions. Be specific and direct. For instance, ask about the side effects of a given treatment, or what symptoms to expect. "Physicians have very little time. They like someone to come in with their questions. That builds trust and facilitates communication," Teschendorf says.
Remember: Questions not asked often go unanswered. Teschendorf offers this example. "Spinal cord compression is one of the most drastic outcomes of advanced prostate cancer." And yet, few caregivers know to expect that their loved ones might develop this painful and potentially debilitating problem.
Savvy caregivers ask questions beyond what symptoms to expect. They try to find out about the latest and most effective therapies available to combat them.
While information gathering is essential, 'information overload' can happen. "Too much at once is overwhelming," Teschendorf says. Instead, she suggests gathering information gradually. "Get information that is relevant to the moment you're in."
Organize Care at Home
Prioritize tasks. "Take care of essential tasks immediately," Teschendorf recommends. Let things wait if they're not urgent. Many caregivers find that responsibilities they once deemed essential, like maintaining a spotless house, become less important.
Honestly evaluate how much time and energy you can dedicate to caregiving. If your time and energy is limited, delegate tasks. Look first to willing family members and friends. Consider hiring a home health nurse. These trained health care professionals provide a variety of services, from helping patients bathe to administering more complex procedures and checkups. They can also teach caregivers how to perform difficult tasks. Like caregivers, home health nurses strive to make patients as comfortable as possible.