Many Canadians who are caring for a sick or aging loved one can experience caregiver burnout, which occurs when the demands of the role result in the caregiver feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
In June of 2018, Natasha Orlando’s world was flipped upside down when her youngest sister, Sarah, 31, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkinʼs lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects more than 36,000 Canadians.
Not only did her sister’s diagnosis take an emotional toll on Natasha, but the 37-year-old became Sarah’s main caregiver, driving her to all of her doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy treatments.
“I was so grateful I was able to help and the timing all worked out,” says Natasha, who had been laid off from her job just weeks before her sister was diagnosed. “There are just so many appointments and treatments that someone with this type of disease has to go through and I can’t imagine having to go alone.”
Natasha Orlando is not alone in her role as caregiver for a sick family member. According to Statistics Canada, 8.1 million or 28 per cent of Canadians provide care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition or disability.
But after months of attending Sarahʼs appointments and watching her sister’s health fluctuate, Natasha was feeling exhausted. “I found keeping up a positive attitude and lifting everyone up to be one of the most exhausting things,” she says.
Like many Canadians who find themselves in the position of caring for a sick or aging loved one, Natasha was experiencing the signs of caregiver burnout, which occurs when the demands of the role result in the caregiver feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Understanding these challenges, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC) offers a wide range of programs designed to help both patients and caregivers throughout their cancer experience from access to blood cancer information specialists to a peer matching service where those affected by blood cancers are able to speak with someone who has “been through it.”
“I found keeping up a positive attitude and lifting everyone up to be one of the most exhausting things.” — Natasha Orlando, caregiver
Natasha recalls a particularly difficult moment, when her sisterʼs hair began to fall out following chemotherapy treatments.
“It was my birthday and we had come home from dinner and there I was, brushing out her hair, and more than half of it was coming out,” Natasha recalls. “It was so hard, but I just kept saying ‘It’s going to be okay.’ But I will never, ever forget that birthday.”
It was then that Natasha decided to do something for herself to ensure she could be the best caregiver for her sister. “If you’re exhausted and stressed all of the time, then you are not able to give the best of yourself to the situation,” she says.
Experts agree. Caregivers need to be taken care of too. Not only are they dealing with the emotions that come along with watching a loved one go through an illness, they are also dealing with the day-to-day tasks of attending appointments, and are often the ones cooking, cleaning, paying bills and looking after other family members in the process, according to LLSC.
Natasha found solace in the hour a day she set aside to work out. At her local gym, she got the break she needed from her caregiving duties, but she also found something unexpected: a community.
“I saw these people almost every day and they really helped me through this time,” she says.
Having a community to lean on for support is important for patients and caregivers alike, according to LLSC, which has a variety of caregiving resources available.
LLSC’s First Connection Program is a support program that matches caregivers, patients and families with trained peer volunteers who can share their experiences and tips for going through similar situations.
After months of stress, Natasha’s sister got some good news. Last November, Sarah and her family were told her cancer had gone into remission.
“It was the best early Christmas gift we could have received,” Natasha says.
Find more resources about caregiver support by visiting llscanada.org/support/caregiver-support.
As seen in the Globe and Mail on September 16, 2019