Faces of Caregiving – Australia
Greg Smith first started to look after his mum, Lyn, when he was in his early 20s after she was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, Greg was working full-time in Sydney as a storeman; however, in order for him to care for his mum and take her to hospital appointments, Greg began working locally at their home in the Central Coast.
This was compounded by his mum also being diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition in addition to a number of other health conditions.
Greg’s parents are now divorced but for a number of years following his mum’s cancer diagnosis, his Dad’s health was also of concern. “During this time, my father developed a number of mental health conditions and was eventually diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, which meant he had to retire early.”
While his mum was being treated for her cancer, Greg managed to get back to working and studying Health Sciences at a local University. However, this didn’t last long as he found that his mum needed more support around-the-clock so he took on the role as full-time caregiver.
“I mainly help out with making sure my mum is getting the correct medications, scheduling her medical appointments, transport, cooking, cleaning and assisting with mobility.”
Although Greg was undertaking the role of a caregiver, it was something that he didn’t initially recognise. “It took me 10 years to self-identify as a caregiver. For me, I was just doing what comes naturally – looking after my mum. I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this, and often men can find it challenging to come to terms with their role as a caregiver.”
Greg spends much of his time looking after his mum and like many other caregivers, he often neglects his own physical and mental health.
“Making time and finding the motivation to exercise or socialise is hard for many carers. I feel guilty doing things for myself or taking time out, but over the past few years I’ve realised how important having a break is.”
In addition, being aware of how support services and organizations can assist in terms of practical help and education.
Greg believes that for many men, including himself, this is the most challenging aspect when caring for someone.
“I’m a dedicated advocate for men in caring roles — I founded the online community Men Care Too, which focuses on the awareness, wellbeing and engagement of men in unpaid, informal caring roles and the communities around them. I realised many men were in a caring role but unaware of the support available to them.”
Greg is a former Vice President of Candles Cancer Support Group INC and facilitator of a number of caregiver peer support groups, encouraging and helping to support men and women in different caring roles
“I would not change anything because I love my life now, but there are things I wish I’d been more aware of, such as maintaining social connections and staying physically active.”