Breast cancer survivor Mariana Lourens from Port Elizabeth has more than a decade of experience looking after cancer patients as an oncology social worker at GVI Oncology. Here she answers questions about what it takes to accompany someone on their cancer journey.
What is the best way?Keeping in mind what a patient needs, there’s no right or wrong way – there’s only your way. Don’t compare yourself with other people.
Food can be a source of conflict and distress. Family members fret that the person must eat something, but cancer patients often have little or no appetite. So put bite-sized chunks on a small plate, let them eat in front of the TV, or add three teaspoons of Ensure to a small tub of yoghurt. Think of it like a toddler who doesn’t want to eat – think out of the box!
What is the biggest challenge?It takes over your life and no-one is ever really prepared for it. There was an insurance ad on television years ago in which a massive green cloth was draped over a house to signify the insurance cover. Caring for someone with cancer is just as enveloping. But if you can carve out small portions of your life where you briefly step out of that bubble, you’ll do yourself and the patient a favour.
What is a good coping mechanism?Time for yourself. It isn’t possible to look after someone 24/7. Stepping out doesn’t say you don’t give a damn – it says you do!
How does being a carer change you?If you’re caring for someone close to you then you’ll face a fundamental role reversal. You are no longer only the partner or spouse, the mother, daughter or friend – you are now also the carer. The emotional bond changes and the main focus of the relationship shifts.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?A friend who was dying of cancer told me life is like creating a mosaic. Each of us contributes an imperfect part to a larger picture. When we pass on, the mosaic of our lives continues through the lives we’ve touched.