Sandy Sabatka spent many years juggling the daily routine of starting a family, working full-time and supporting aging parents. When her parents’ health deteriorated, she took on the additional role of primary caregiver, becoming a member of the so-called Sandwich Generation.
Her personal experience, combined with her role as a social worker at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, led her to form a support group for caregivers to help others.
Sabatka had enough on her plate when she raised two sons, Michael and Marek, with her husband, Philip. However, the declining health of her parents took a lot of time. Her mother, Kitty, battled metastatic breast and pancreatic cancer, and her father, Steve, had chronic heart disease and dementia. They needed a lot of care and coordination and eventually moved in with Sabatka.
Shortly before her mother’s death, Sabatka’s family made this group portrait.
She got used to wearing many hats: she was a wife and mother of one son in college and another at home, she worked long hours and juggled a calendar full of appointments for her parents’ care. Everyone had to participate, and there were plenty of days that were just hard, she recalls.
“I think you always feel like you’re missing someone,” she said. “Even with informal caregivers who are not trapped, your own self-care comes into the background. One of the reasons I started the informal care group is because I realize how difficult it is.”
After that experience, Sabatka offers tips for managing stress among caregivers:
Take advantage of your support system.
Informal carers need support and social workers provide resource connections. They can also help with the challenges of and help with difficult conversations with their children or grandchildren.
Support groups can be a real benefit to health care providers. Though this may seem like a chore if you’re in the middle of an already busy routine. “It’s valuable to pay attention to your mental health right now.”
Get people involved.
“People who care about you want to help, but they don’t know how.” They can run your errands, pick up kids from school or exercise, visit your loved one while you go to an event, appointment, or support group, or coordinate healthy meal delivery (such as MealTrain) or other routine tasks.
Find ways to keep family and friends informed.
Have someone handle phone calls or use a CaringBridge page to keep family and friends in the loop. “While my mother was in hospice, a good friend of mine called family out of town, which they appreciated. It was a lifesaver for me.”
Your health is important.
You have to be healthy to take care of others. Do you eat and sleep? Do you feel irritable or are you more than usual dependent on alcohol or other substances? Don’t neglect taking your own medication or seeing your own health care providers. Being an effective carer starts with taking good care of yourself.
Normality is important.
“My mom didn’t want to sit around and talk about cancer,” she said. So to help her take her mind off her illness, they liked to go for mani-pedis or dessert with friends. She enjoyed hearing about their lives and family. “We tried to do things that distracted her from her situation. We would laugh and enjoy the time we had together.”
Many hands make light work.
Sabatka’s sons had to adjust to their new family life, whether it was extra chores around the house, visiting their grandparents in a nursing home or hospice, or getting used to the flow of people coming in and out of their homes to provide care. grant. “Communication was so important. There were many emotional times, but even though it was difficult, it showed the children an example of how we take care of each other as a family.”
Forgive yourself for missing things.
While she was sad to miss many of her son’s swim meetings and music performances, Sabatka was grateful that some of the concerts were streamed live so she could watch from home.
“Being away while a loved one is sick is not easy. Luckily he had support from his teammates and when my mother died he came home and many of them stayed with us.” An added benefit was that he played the viola and the others sang at the funeral. “It was really great.”
Prepare for unexpected emotions.
It’s okay to be worried, angry, helpless, or sad about your loved one and situation. If it gets overwhelming, seek help. “That’s all appropriate and normal for a caregiver to experience, so it’s helpful to have someone to talk to. If not in a group, it could be a therapist or social worker at the cancer center. Recognize that those feelings are normal, but what matters is how we respond to them.”
Let family traditions change and enjoy.
Sabatka’s family learned the importance of flexibility. For example, at Christmas they celebrated with her mother in the hospital and watched home movies. “Your loved one may not feel like the usual traditions. It’s important to talk about what makes sense for both of you and it’s okay not to do things the way you always did.”