We are now well into November and entering the holiday season. The holidays are a time of year to cherish time with family and friends. It's also a great time to recognize and give thanks to those who tirelessly provide care for those living with an illness, such as stomach cancer — the fifth most common cancer worldwide. While many are beginning to shift their attention to the holidays in November, it is also the month dedicated to raising awareness of stomach cancer.
Cancer caregivers have one of the most important jobs when supporting a loved one living with cancer. Tara Collingwood knows this well, and experienced first-hand the challenges that come with being a caregiver for someone with cancer. Six years ago, in October 2012, Tara's husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
"We were all shocked," said Tara. "To hear the person I loved and the father to our sons was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stomach cancer, that was growing and spreading quickly, was absolutely devastating. I wanted to do whatever I could to help him but I didn't know where to start."
Cancer caregivers spend an average of 33 hours a week caring for their loved one, which nearly amounts to a full-time job. They often provide support for common day-to-day activities such as bathing, eating, going grocery shopping and helping to manage finances. In many cases, cancer caregivers also conduct medical and nursing tasks to help manage the ongoing care their loved one needs.
The role of a caregiver can be incredibly challenging but there are ways of making the job feel less overwhelming. Tara shared her tips for people who are caring for a loved one living with an illness.
- Accept help: "Don't be afraid to accept and ask for help from others. For me, it was difficult to accept help at first, let alone ask someone to help me. However, I soon learned that many people want to help but just don't know how. Think about what would help you the most and don't be afraid to ask others to assist. If someone offers to drop off dinner, pick up your kids, stop at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription — let them!"
- Have your own support system: "Your loved one has you to support and listen to them. But you also need someone who supports and listens to you. Find someone — like a therapist, friend or family member — who will listen to you and help support what you're going through emotionally."
- Don't second guess yourself: "There are so many decisions to make when it comes to caring for your loved one, from treatment plans to which doctors to see to what to eat. Make a decision and stick to it. Don't second guess your decision and think that if you would have done something else they would have gotten better. You don't know exactly how each treatment is going to affect them and which exact medicine or procedure is best. It is different for everyone and you just have to make decisions and stick to them."
- Take care of yourself, too: "You are a caregiver for a loved one, but you need to first take care of yourself as well. It's so easy to give up sleep, exercise, eating right, etc. Make sure you protect your own personal health so you can be as strong as possible for your loved one without being completely worn out yourself. You can't help them if you get sick or burnt out."
Despite the challenges, being a caregiver can be a rewarding experience. "The most rewarding part was knowing that I was providing not only care, but care with love," said Tara. "I felt good knowing that he knew he could count on me. I know that I did everything I could to help him. It was rewarding to me that he knew someone he loved was making sure things were taken care of."
Sadly, Tara's husband lost his battle with stomach cancer. "When your loved one is sick, and their outlook is unknown, you have to make every moment count," Tara explained. "It was important to me that my husband, our kids and I spent quality time together and created moments that mattered. I'm so thankful for the memories we do have, and that our kids will remember how wonderful their father was."
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For more tips on caregiving, visit Caregiving.org.
About Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lining of the stomach. Globally, it is the fifth most common cancer in the world, with one million new cases annually. It is the third leading cause of cancer death in the world — resulting in 723,000 deaths each year. In 2018, it is estimated that 26,240 cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed (16,520 in men and 9,720 in women) in the U.S.
The early stages of stomach cancer rarely cause symptoms, so the cancer often goes undetected. Cancer cells typically develop slowly and symptoms often do not appear until the disease is advanced and has already spread to other organs such as the liver, lungs and bones., About one in five stomach cancers in the U.S. is found at an early stage. Stomach cancer symptoms can include, poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, vague discomfort in the abdomen, a sense of fullness in the upper abdomen after eating a small meal, heartburn or indigestion, nausea, vomiting — with or without blood, swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen, blood in the stool, low red blood cell count (anemia).
 National Alliance for Caregiving. Cancer Caregiving in the U.S. Available at: https://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/CancerCaregivingReport_FINAL_June-17-2016.pdf Accessed November 8, 2018.
 National Cancer Institute. Gastric Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/stomach/patient/stomach-treatment-pdq. Accessed November 8, 2018.
 Globocan 2012 Cancer Fact Sheet. Stomach Cancer Estimated Incidence, Mortality and Prevalence Worldwide in 2012. Available at http://globocan.iarc.fr/Pages/fact_sheets_cancer.aspx. Accessed November 8, 2018.
 American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Stomach Cancer. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Accessed November 8, 2018.
 American Cancer Society. What Is Stomach Cancer? Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer/about/what-is-stomach-cancer.html. Accessed November 8, 2018.
 American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html. Accessed November 8, 2018.