Letter From a Caregiver

Jennie Guiley cared for her husband during his treatment at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and is excited to be giving back as a Patient and Family Advisor. She is currently a stay-at-home mom with a smart and sassy six year old and a happy and energetic one year old and lives with her husband and kiddos in North Seattle. She shares her experience as a caregiver in hopes you will feel supported as you take on this new role.

Dear Fellow Caregiver,

Being a caregiver to someone undergoing cancer treatment is an incredibly love-filled, yet daunting task. You will lean on your community, stand by yourself, cry, laugh, break down, and hopefully feel supported as you do this amazing work. You will hear so much about how to best care for yourself during this time. You will find some information helpful, some useless, some brilliant, and some well-intentioned but out of touch with what is now your reality. There is no cookie-cutter mold for how to cope and thrive in this role. I hope you know that you are an invaluable part of your loved one’s care team and that your voice and experience are vital.  

Throughout this process you will need help. I found that the support I needed changed dramatically depending on treatment phase (active, waiting for test results, etc.), causing a need for constant revision of my coping skills. At times, self-care may even seem overwhelming and more like another task to check off your list versus something that helps you relax and regroup. While taking care of yourself is extremely important, please don't feel guilty if your current self-care tools aren't serving you. Bottom line: it is OK to do whatever you need to do in order to stay sane, healthy, and present.  

You may be required to act as a liaison between family members, co -workers, friends, etc. This will hopefully be an uplifting and energy-filling part of your experience. It can also feel draining if others are requiring support from you that you aren't prepared to give. I encourage you to trust yourself, be open to change, and try to remember that each person is bringing their own set of emotions, past experiences, and questions to the table. That being said, your main job as a caregiver is to care for your loved one and not everyone else all the time. Having healthy boundaries will help you stay focused and well during this difficult time.

This handbook has some wonderful resources to help you with many aspects of this process. I wish you courage, strength, and the ability to advocate for your family the best way you know how. Above all else, please know that you are not alone.

With love and support,

Jennie Guiley