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Emotionally Supporting a Loved One with Cancer

One of the most devastating diagnoses one can receive is cancer. This terrible disease is not only physically devastating but also emotionally impactful, not just for the patient but also for their families.

Older people facing this disease and the difficult treatments can sometimes lead to depression. It’s critical for families to know the signs of depression in their loved ones with cancer so they can take the best course of action.

Can a cancer diagnosis lead to depression?

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. They also report that the number is higher for people with cancer.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can trigger a host of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, and anger. It’s not easy to come to terms with this new journey fraught with unexpected challenges, and it’s perfectly normal to experience intense emotions during this time.

The fatigue, nausea, or body pain associated with treatment can reduce one’s quality of life and prevent them from engaging in activities they usually enjoy. This can lead to depression too.

The commission also reported that 78 percent of Canadian cancer survivors experienced at least one emotional concern up to three years after completing treatment. Returning to your everyday life after battling such an aggressive illness can be overwhelming for many people. They might also find that support from family, friends, and doctors may have diminished from when they were undergoing treatment.

That’s why it’s essential to watch for the signs of depression in your older loved one both during and after cancer treatments to help protect their mental health.

What are the signs of depression in an older adult?

Depression is often hidden in someone undergoing cancer treatment because the symptoms are often quite similar. For example, fatigue is prevalent in people fighting cancer and is also a hallmark sign of depression. Sometimes, depression goes undiagnosed because the fatigue is often attributed to cancer by family members or even the patient.

Other symptoms of depression tend to start small and gradually get worse over time, making changes in the person’s demeanour hard to notice. However, it’s still important to track the possible symptoms so you can encourage your loved one to seek help.

Here are some of the signs to watch out for:

  • Feelings of sadness that tend to linger for days and weeks
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Expressing feelings of guilt or shame
  • Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Difficulty focusing or making decisions

If you do notice these symptoms, encourage your loved one to see their doctor so they can talk about their feelings and possibly be referred to a mental health professional for further examination. In the meantime, you can take steps to show support and improve their mental well-being.

How to support an older person who’s depressed during or after cancer

An older loved one might hesitate to seek out treatment for depression while fighting cancer. There can be many reasons for this, such as not knowing they have it, wanting to “fight one battle at a time,” or not wanting to talk about mental health due to generational or cultural stigmas.

The person might also be exhausted from ongoing medical appointments, undergoing treatments, and worrying about the possible outcomes of their cancer diagnosis. Talking about depression might be the last thing someone battling cancer wants to do.

However, this doesn’t mean that depression shouldn’t go unchecked. You and your family can help support your loved one’s emotional well-being by simply helping out with tasks that need to be done, such as:

  • Arranging for rides or accompanying them to medical appointments
  • Preparing nutritious meals in advance that they can quickly reheat
  • Cleaning up around the house

Older adults, cancer patients, and people with depression are often too demotivated to perform these tasks. If someone falls into all three categories, completing them might seem impossible. Helping them out can give them peace of mind and improve their emotional well-being.

Don’t wait for the person to ask you to help. Take the initiative and offer to handle any errands that need to be done right away. You can always run errands for the caregiver in case there’s something urgently required. It might also be helpful if you take on tasks that need to be done on a regular basis, such as getting the mail or walking the dog.

Of course, you can’t always be there. But you can still check in via phone or Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime to see how they’re doing. Call at a time when it’s best for the person to talk, and don’t keep them on the phone too long in case they’re tired. The conversation doesn’t just have to be about their diagnosis and treatment; you can also update them on your life, what’s happening at work, and on other pleasant topics.

You can also stay with them after cancer treatment to offer emotional support or help them if they’re experiencing aftereffects. Sitting with your older loved one and letting them know you’re there to listen if needed will help them feel valued and loved. If they would like to share their story with others going through a similar experience, there are cancer support groups they can join for additional support.

Also, remember that your loved one’s cancer diagnosis is likely affecting your mental well-being too. There are caregiver support groups where you can find the advice and guidance you need to keep providing loving care to your older relative.

CareHop is here to support your family too, whenever you need us.

Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

CareHop specializes in providing quality eldercare services when families need a helping hand. Our in-home nursing care helps support people with cancer, undergoing cancer treatment, or needing help post-treatment. We also provide safe, reliable transportation and accompaniment services to their medical appointments.

Our caregivers help minimize the symptoms of depression with activities and companionship that help promote positive mental well-being. All of CareHop’s services are designed to make a positive impact in your family’s life at the moment you need us.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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