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Earlier this year, Termeh Khoshniat was awarded the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Scholarship based on the essay she wrote about being a caregiver for her mother, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 mesothelioma when Termeh was only 16 years old.
While being a caregiver always has its challenges no matter what age you are or what stage of life you’re in, there are some particular challenges to being a caregiver while also attending school full time. We followed up with Termeh to see how she was managing both the daily struggles of providing care for her mother and the demanding study schedule required by her curriculum.
Organize Your Life
When Termeh moved from a local community college, where she was close to her mother, to a large university further away, she was faced with difficulties for which she wasn’t prepared. “I burnt out quickly,” Termeh acknowledged, “and I could not handle the pressure anymore of having to deal with school and my mother. I did not even have time to relax and always felt like a big burden was on my shoulder.”
What helped her to cope, she said, was finding a way to prioritize the most important things in her life. “I needed to have a schedule for my mother and I,” Termeh explained. “Always school and my mother were first, and I would reward myself when I had finished my job, like a relaxing day. After a while it became like a system and I have adopted this system until this day, although there are days that I am still overwhelmed.”
Carve Time for Yourself
It can sometimes be difficult to focus on yourself when so much of your time is spent focusing on someone else. However, carving out time to pursue your own dreams, goals, and ambitions is extremely important, both for the caregiver and the individuals they are caring for.
When asked what the most important tip was that she could give other young caregivers, Termeh replied, “All young caregivers who have a dream should not give up on their dreams and goals, with regards to school or anything else.”
In particular, Termeh expressed how important it is to understand and embrace the unique and challenging aspects of being a young caregiver. “Just feel blessed that you have the opportunity to experience something this difficult and challenging in your younger adulthood years,” she said, “when many people don't have the chance to be challenged to this extent until late adulthood.”
Take Care of Your Body
Caregivers can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the stress of providing care, which can lead to health problems and mental anxiety of their own. Termeh said she tries to be mindful of her own need to stay healthy, for both her own sake and that of her mother.
“I do not have a lot of time,” Termeh confessed, “but in my tight schedule I try to squeeze in going to the gym, dancing, or boxing. These activities help me with anxiety or to relieve stress.”
In addition, Termeh suggests avoiding habits that could be bad for you. “Try to avoid things that are hurtful for your mind and soul such as fatty food, soda, smoking, and drinking,” she advised. “The best thing you can do for yourself is to surround yourself with positive things such as exercising, healthy food such vegetables and fruits, yoga. Most importantly, remember to take care of your own needs as well, being sure to give yourself well-deserved breaks.”
(Re)Discover Your Ambition
In her scholarship-winning essay, Termeh acknowledged that she has always dreamed of becoming a doctor. However, due to her mother’s illness and the resulting financial problems caused by medical expenses, Termeh was diagnosed as suffering from depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, Termeh has discovered a way to use her role as a caregiver to renew her determination to enter the medical field. “I always had an interest in becoming a physician from a very young age, but after my mom became ill, my passion of becoming a doctor grew even stronger,” Termeh said.
Using her mother’s situation as a way to reignite her own ambitions has been an important part of helping Termeh find balance as a caregiver. “I had days that I doubted myself if I wanted to continue this hard and difficult journey,” Termeh admitted, “but every time my mom blessed me and thanked me, I felt that being a doctor is not only about grades and accomplishments, but it is also about passion to help and to understand the patient.”
Find Ways to Continue Growing
Undoubtedly, becoming a caregiver forces you to learn things that you never had to learn before. “It is one of the hardest jobs that can be done in your young adulthood,” Termeh said. “It is hard because you have to deal with challenges emotionally, mentally, and physically.”
But those emotional, mental, and physical challenges can also lead to opportunities for growth. For Termeh, the struggles she has endured as a caregiver have also helped her develop her compassion and patience.
“I learned to be very patient person by listening to what my mother needs,” Termeh said. “My compassionate personality is now stronger, and my dream of becoming a physician a reality. I listened, I learned to get things that were needed for her, and how to just be a shoulder for her to ensure she feels she belongs in this world with a terminal illness.”