Dear Dr. Beal:
My sister is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and has had to move in with me and my family. I am so scared of losing her. She is like my second mom because she is ten years older than me. She has always taken care of me and my siblings when our parents were not available. My major concern is that she is depressed, and I cannot seem to help her. I am also feeling down because I can’t make this go away. How should I cope? How can I help her?
Signed, Sad Sister
First, let me acknowledge that yours and your sister’s feelings are normal among people who are coping with cancer. I would tend to believe that your sister is so proud of the person you have become, especially if now she can lean on you for support during a difficult time. Cancer treatment can be scary and confusing for people and one’s emotions can often change. Research on medical problems reveal a correlation that can contribute to emotional and psychological problems. How a person approaches cancer and the treatments can help improve their quality of life. If the symptoms you are seeing persist you may want to seek professional help for your sister. Managing depression in people with cancer can include counseling, psychotropic medications and /or often a combination of both. The American Cancer Society has outlined signs to look for that mirror a clinical diagnosis of depression:
- Ongoing sad, hopeless, or “empty” mood almost everyday for most of the day
- Wide mood swings from depression to periods of agitation and high energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
- Major weight loss (when not dieting) or weight gain
- Sleep changes (can’t sleep, early waking, or oversleeping)
- Extreme tiredness or less energy almost every day
- Trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
- Frequent thought of death or suicide, or attempt at suicide
Please note that some of the symptoms mirror what is caused by cancer treatments such as tiredness, appetite changes, etc. It is important that you communicate with the medical team that is treating your sister. All hospitals will have a social work team available to assist patients. Reach out and let them know your thoughts and your sister’s behaviors. As a family member you can also participate in care givers’ support groups that are also offered through the hospital systems.
Tips to help the Patient:
- Allow them to share their feelings about what they are experiencing. Sometimes people will ignore the patient but allow and encourage her to share.
- Help them learn and practice mindfulness, relaxation techniques, etc.
- Continue to have them practice their faith.
Tips for the Caregiver
- Take a break and relax.
- Take Care of yourself eat, health, exercise, and get enough rest.
- Practice your faith.
- Know and give yourself permission to cry and acknowledge the stress.
If psychological needs are not addressed, regardless of when they occur, they later correlate with anxiety and stress, depressive symptoms, lower quality of life and the list goes on and on. I am sure you are doing an amazing job caring for your sister and thank you for reaching out.
Do You Have A Question? Connect with me!: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Good Mental Health Equals Mental Wealth”