As a caregiver for someone with cancer at any stage of treatment, including chemotherapy or radiation treatments, after surgery or even during periods of remission, a wide range of emotions can accompany the life of a caregiver. As you manage both the physical and emotional needs of your patient, you may also be struggling from time to time with your own evolving psychological and emotional needs, and this adjustment can create enormous amounts of strain, stress and feelings of responsibility.
To make an already difficult situation even harder, there’s another factor: The emotional journey a cancer patient is on may sometimes spill over into unexpected outbursts of sadness, fear, or even out-and-out animosity or hatefulness toward the very people the patient is closest to. There are many reasons an otherwise friendly, loving family member, spouse or friend may lash out in hurtful ways, each related to fear, anxiety, guilt and/or anger. These outbursts may be somewhat relatable or easy to understand intellectually … but it doesn’t make coping with the hurtful words or actions from someone you love and are caring for any easier to bear.
These moments can be challenging for even the most experienced cancer caregivers, but there are steps you can take to manage them more effectively while remaining supportive and protecting your own emotional well-being. Here are six tips for coping with a patient’s angry outbursts:
Listen to what your loved one is really saying.
Remember, your patient is also adjusting to changing roles
in your relationship, and the weight of his or her cancer diagnosis. Listen carefully to what your family member or spouse is really saying, and consider the underlying thoughts, concerns and feelings that may be driving an angry response. When the patient calms down, don’t be afraid to voice your own feelings and thoughts, as well, in a thoughtful and careful way.
Remember that it’s not your fault. Your friend or family member’s outburst probably has very little, if anything, to do with you or anything you actually did. Remember that your patient is venting other frustrations related to his or her diagnosis, and unfortunately, this can mean lashing out at those closest to him or her. Don’t take it personally, and make an effort to move on quickly. When the situation cools, take time to explain to your patient how his or her words or actions hurt you.
Be an advocate for your loved one.
Many times, a feeling that the patient isn’t being heard or understood can translate into feelings of anger or resentment. Make sure that during doctor visits or during treatment, the patient’s concerns are being addressed
. Asking questions and taking notes may be helpful, as well as keeping records of appointments, test results, medications and possible side effects.
Make sure the patient’s physical needs are being adequately met.
All people need to feel like their basic needs are being met
, especially during cancer treatment. Any change in routine (either real or imagined), including bathing, dressing, feeding or using the bathroom may be a trigger for an already overwhelmed patient. Consult with your cancer care team about training programs available for these tasks, and hire professional help as needed to keep your loved one well cared for and comfortable.
Schedule breaks throughout the day … or especially following an angry outburst or confrontation. Caregiver burnout
is very real, and failing to take time to process a patient’s angry episode or set appropriate boundaries can contribute to it. Remember to take time for yourself every day, including short, five-minute breaks. Even a few minutes of quiet relaxation, including meditation or deep breathing, can help you maintain focus and reduce stress. It’s OK to take a break, or walk away from a tense situation, any time you need to.
Connect with a local caregiver support group.
There are both online
and offline support groups
for caregivers just like you who can share stories, talk about feelings and provide guidance. If feelings of anxiety, stress, resentment or depression become overwhelming, consider reaching out to a therapist or psychologist for one-on-one counseling.