Self-care for carers, friends, and family

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the focus is understandably on them - their fears, their experiences, and their physical, mental, and emotional needs. However, loved ones, especially those who are in a position of providing care, also go through an extremely trying time. Spas with oncology trained therapists are able to help support them too.

Jennifer Young remembers a time when she worked at Guy’s Hospital, and when a person who had been diagnosed with cancer walked into the room, they would typically come in first with their carer following, possibly carrying the bags. Many of us will recognise that visual, and it’s a perfectly reasonable state of affairs. However, it’s also a metaphor for the support role that carers, friends and family play - often disappearing into the background and not getting the support that they need when going through an extremely worrying, tiring, even sometimes physically demanding time.

Caring for someone with cancer

Caring for someone with cancer can mean a wide variety of things. It might simply mean being around, being there to listen, playing taxi for the myriad of medical appointments or it might mean delivering some level of personal or medical care at home. It might also mean shouldering the full weight of household finances if their loved one is unable to work. For many people, these things come on top of day jobs (or possibly meaning they need to take time off work), perhaps looking after children or parents, and running a household. That’s all before their own basic needs - sleeping, eating, washing, cooking, cleaning - leaving very little space for a good cry or an angry rant.

Leaving the time implications aside, many carers feel that as it’s not them experiencing cancer themselves, they have little right to ask for support. They can’t talk to the loved one who is unwell because they don’t want to burden or upset them, they may not have friends who really understand what they’re talking about, they might not want to ‘bore’ other people with it, and perhaps they don’t want every conversation to be about cancer, even though it’s occupying an enormous part of their mind.

Another nuanced challenge that people mention to us, is that it can feel as though cancer creates a barrier between them and the person who is being treated. Suddenly, this elephant is in the room. Quality time becomes loaded in a way that can be hard to deal with. In effect, you can feel as though you have lost the person and the relationship you had with them ‘BC’, which, is a complex set of emotions in itself.

How spas can help

There is a lot of talk about cancer in the spa world, and often the language that’s used focuses on the patient. That’s understandable because from a technical point of view, it’s their treatment that needs to be adapted in order to be as safe as possible, and that’s where the quantifiable element of training in oncology touch treatments lies.

However, the knowledge that therapists gain through this specialist training, also gives them the ability to understand the language and some of the processes that carers and their loved ones might be going through. Where friends might not know their immunotherapy from their chemotherapy or the unwritten implications of breast cancer surgery, they do.

Where you may feel obligated for a conversation with friends to be reciprocal, asking about their challenges when you are not in a place where you can really take them on board, there is no such obligation with your therapist. You don’t have to talk about cancer, but as some people find conversation part of the therapeutic process, you do have licence to, if you want to.

You might want to spend quality time with a loved one who is being treated for cancer, in a context that does not relate to medical treatments or the rigours of daily life - escape it all for a little while. An on oncology trained therapist can provide therapies that are adaptable to both your needs, so you can feel like it’s a spa experience like anyone else.

Nikki Spicer, Spa Director at Vita Skin Spa, has not only provided cancer support in her professional work, but has also experienced the need for carer support and how that can be provided by therapists, in her personal life. She says:

“I cared for my mum when she had her cancer diagnosis before she went into a hospice. That was just for a short and precious time, many others do it for a lot longer, but it was very all encompassing. You want to give everything to that person, but the saying is true - you have to look after yourself to be able to give your all to someone else. I think for carers getting time for yourself is very important. It doesn’t have to be in a spa. I like techniques like breathing, meditation and aromatherapy around the house - those are great as you don’t have to leave that person you’re looking after, but you can take a bit of time to recoup your energy before going back to caring.

In a spa environment, we have dual treatment rooms and will say to people to come in with their loved one who is going through cancer and have a treatment together so you’re both topping up your energy. We also have a relaxation room, and even if you are not having a treatment, we say to you to come and have time in the relaxation room so you know we’re taking care of the person you love and you can use that time to switch off. When you’re caring for someone, you’re always thinking about where they are and what they need but if you know someone has that bit in hand, then you can switch off and think about yourself for a moment.”

To find an oncology trained therapist local to you, visit our Spa and Therapist Finder.  Each one of the therapists listed has completed specialist training at The Jennifer Young Training School, to deliver therapies to cancer patients, using products you already know and trust.

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