How can I help my mother feel joy when she is dealing with cancer?

My mother has cancer. She doesn't talk about her situation with a lot of people and cannot go to work either, so she stays most of her time at home besides treatments and two walks per day. She tries to be brave and doesn't like people getting in her business, so it's mostly walks with my father and I. I study abroad but I have been with her for a month. I entertain her a lot, which my father doesn't, but still she still feels sad. People annoy her all the time, and she is constantly nervous and anxious. I walk with her, talk with her, but not sure how to emotionally help her. I think she should do something that gives her joy while she is going through treatments, but I have tried everything. Playing games, buying toys ... How can I give her tools so she doesn't feel this anxious and enjoys her life more, even when she spends a lot of time alone? Also, I will be moving back abroad in two weeks and not come back for a while. We will video call every night and text the whole day, but she still needs tools to feel joy without me present . I cannot even make her fully happy and unstressed even when I am here with her all the time.
Asked by Dama

First, I want to commend you on being there as a positive support for your mother in her time of need. I see where you are taking a lot of responsibility for this as it does not seem that many people know and are able to give her the support that you are. I will give you tips that you could do for her and then will also touch upon the importance of self-care for you as I would not want you to have caretaker burnout and the effects that this could have on you. 

I would introduce anxiety tools to your mother that could be effective for her managing her anxiety. Anxiety is contributing to some of the irritability that she is experiencing. Positive supports and reaching out would be a great way for her to not have the isolation as well as be able to effectively process her emotions. If she does not want to leave the house she could join a virtual support group. This could be helpful for her if she does not want to be open about her diagnosis or anxiety to those that she knows. It would be a place for her to express her emotions and it would not feel that you were the one that was solely experiencing all of her concerns and expression of concerns. I also think that using coping skill techniques would be helpful. This could include deep breathing tools. Deep breathing is effective at reducing the stimulation that comes from anxiety and can also be practiced at any time and place once it is learned. Deep breathing is also something that is discreet, so it is not something that she would have to worry about others noticing that she is doing. I know that she is home, so I would also suggest personal activities that could keep her entertained- this could be something like painting, planting. It is a good time of year to start growing plants in the home and then transferring outside. With you away, this may be something that would also help her to feel better and have something to "parent" as she takes care of the plant and watches it grow. I am going to talk about self-care tools next as they relate to you and your needs- but I strongly recommend that she engage in self-care tools as well. 

Self-care includes taking time to do things that you enjoy, taking time for yourself. One important part of self-care that is often not discussed or talked about is boundaries. Boundaries are important because it is taking the time that you need for yourself and not giving everything to someone else where you are depleted. When we think about caregiver burnout, this is important because if you are depleted, you are not able to be there for the other person in the way that you want to. This does mean saying "no" at times and having a self-focus. With being in school, this may be important if you need time to study or spend time with friends while you are abroad. It is good to have the goal of video calls each day, but they can vary in length depending on your needs as well. I want you to remember that self-care is not selfish. That word has a negative connotation, but again, you need to take care of yourself in order to be there for others.