Caregiver Burnout: The Unspoken Suffering of the Caregiver


Caregiverby Mary Hesdorffer, NP, Executive Director of the Meso Foundation

Speak to any caregiver and they will share with you the rewards of caring for a loved one when tragedy strikes. In the beginning, the tasks are met and the list items ticked off one by one. It feels good to be unselfish; the endorphins are sending us messages that we have become the noble self that we had hoped one day to become.

Months go by and the caregiver looks up and thinks ‘Oh my God, will this ever end? Where am I in this process and how did I lose my way?’ The caregiver is not a machine. No human being is programmed to be on high alert 24/7, ready to handle any emergent situation that arises. The caregiver is the unselfish, ever giving angel of mercy residing in the home of a cancer patient. Friends and family can see the signs of burn out, but the caregiver wears this as a badge of pride often until “something gives.” It may manifest as an emotional outburst or extreme exhaustion may take over, and all of a sudden, the world of the caregiver has crumbled.

If you are caregiving for a spouse, stop what you are doing now and sit down with your loved one and tell each other why you came together and why you have stayed together. Yes, caregiving may be somewhere on the list, but my hunch is that it is not one of the top reasons why you are together. Despite the diagnosis of cancer, a patient and a caregiver can still find joy in their relationship and, yes, even a laugh or two. Come back into the 20th century, spend a dollar and get Amazon Prime or Netflix, and look for those comedies that will make you both laugh out loud. Laughter is the best medicine, both for the caregiver and for the patient. Walking into the home of a cancer patient should not feel like walking into a church or a museum, but a place where a living, breathing human resides.

Caregivers, take 30 minutes each day for you. Do this early in the journey. In academics, we call it protected time. Whatever activity you choose should be strictly for your benefit. If you can take a bit more, join friends for lunch, or better yet, go to an exercise class. Invite them for dinner so you both can enjoy socialization and stimulating conversation that does not revolve around “when the next treatment is scheduled” or “have you taken your medicine yet?”

Let’s get the conversation going. Please let us know what works or has worked for you during this stressful time. Caring for the caregiver should be a priority, as few realize that the caregiver is also suffering during this cancer journey.

2 Comments on "Caregiver Burnout: The Unspoken Suffering of the Caregiver"

  1. I know my situation is unusual, I’m a caregiver of my 25 year old daughter. I was in the hospital with her 24/7 for seven weeks through April May and June 2015. I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I made it through this grueling year but I am now in what feels like PTSD. I’m utterly exhausted all the time and despite therapy with a counselor, I’m not shaking the fear and moving forward fast enough for my liking. Is anyone else reading this a parent of a young person w mesothelioma? Any advice/help would be so appreciated. <3

  2. Dianne Gafford | April 8, 2017 at 11:04 am | Reply

    Oh…my Goodness!!! You truely have an unusual situation. I just started on this journey with my 76yo husband and I am already tired!!! I will be praying for you and your daughter and hoping you find someone who can help and encourage you both.

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