One day you’re coming home from work and thinking about what you’ll fix your little family for dinner and the next thing you know your loved one is diagnosed with a life changing, future-altering cancer. What. In. The. Heck???? (Picture standing in the middle of the street with a speeding bus coming right at you- THAT is how I felt- every freaking day)
Without a manual or any type of guidance or mentorship you are swimming against the current of the healthcare system and all your emotions. Everything changes- except the responsibilities you had before the cancer diagnosis. You still have the mortgage and those utility bills to pay. Those don’t stop for cancer. In fact, in a lot of cases, your expenses increase after cancer.
So, what do you do? How do you balance caregiving and your career? Is that even possible?
When my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, I had just started a career in the legal industry in downtown Dallas. I was my dad’s primary healthcare caregiver. I had a demanding job with a two hour commute every day, and I was married with a 4-year-old.
I did everything wrong. I never asked for help. I thought I was the only one who could do anything- as if the more I did it would be enough to cure the cancer. Believe me, martyrdom while caregiving is never pretty. Burnout is real. You can make yourself physically and emotionally sick trying to do it all yourself.
So, because hindsight is 20/20, I have some advice for that caregiver standing in front of that speeding bus. Hopefully, some of this advice will help you too.
First, get organized at home. This means creating a priority list, a to-do list, a medication list, an appointment calendar, etc..
Priority lists are things that you and your patient must do (like go to drs appointments, pick up and take medications, pay bills, purchasing groceries for meals, etc…) A to-do list can be one or more lists of all your top priorities and secondary priorities. Secondary priorities are things like housekeeping, laundry, yard work and other household chores for both yourself and the patient if you don’t live together.
Together, you and the patient come up with a plan on how to get things done on your lists. Are there other members of the family, friends or neighbors that can help you with the patient and household chores? How does the patient get to and from appointments and treatment? Having a caregiving action plan will set expectations and give you and your patient the chance to work through the scenarios.
Next, get organized at work. Have a discussion with your manager. Let him or her know that your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. Let your manager know that while this is a difficult time in your personal life that you are 100% committed to your job. Ask about flexible work policies and if you and your manager can come up with a plan if your loved one has a health emergency. Is it possible for you to have a flexible work schedule or work 1-2 days from home? It’s easier for your manager to be supportive if you’re still a productive member of the team. Whether or not your manager can make any accommodations for you, he will know that you are honest and still devoted to your job.
Brush up on the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA in case this is something you may need.
The FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks off every year, without pay but with job security. Here’s what you should understand about the law:
You must meet certain requirements. In general, you must work for a company with at least 50 employees, a government agency, or elementary or secondary school to be covered, although state laws may cover you at a smaller employer, so do your research. You must have worked there for at least 12 months, and for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to taking time off. And you must work where your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.
You might have to use your vacation first before using FMLA and you don’t have to take it all at once.
I didn’t use FMLA and didn’t actually take much time off except when my dad had an emergency. I found going to work a much needed mental and physical break from caregiving. For at least 8 hours a day I could immerse myself in something other than cancer care, worrying about prognosis, side effects and what the future held. I don’t want to paint a picture that things were easy once I got to work…it wasn’t…and there were issues- like bursting into tears in the elevator when a coworker I barely knew walked up and said hi to me, yelling at my cubicle mate to “shut up please!” while I was on the phone with the doctor and getting written up for that. Like I said, hindsight is 20/20.
I firmly believe that any type of balance in your life stems from openly communicating your situation, asking for and receiving help, and practicing regular self-care.
Imagine if you took care of yourself as well as you took care of your loved one….
Chew on that friends.
Until next time- May your coffee kick in before reality does...
Listen to the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/katiebrown/episodes/CAREGIVERS-How-to-Balance-Caregiving-and-Your-Career-e4qh0l