A cancer diagnosis can impact your whole world. But what happens when you are also a big part of someone else’s world? Cancer impacts not just the person diagnosed, but their whole network of friends, family members and loved ones can feel the effects as well. This is especially true for the person acting as caregiver. Caregivers to someone with cancer spend an average of 8 hours per day providing care to their loved one. The demands of caregiving depend on several different variables–stage of disease, types of symptoms experienced, functional ability, treatment side effects and more. A caregiver’s response to the cancer diagnosis, treatment and journey itself can be just as important as how the patient responds–making the need for physical, social and emotional support for caregivers extremely important. In honor of National Family Caregiver Awareness Month, here are our top ten tips for caregivers.
1) Find YOUR support system
When a friend or loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it’s an emotional time. Sometimes it can be difficult to talk with your loved one about your feelings, because you both have so much going on. Many find one of the best ways to cope with stress, uncertainty, and loneliness is to talk to others who share similar experiences. To find your own support system, look to our Affiliate Network or our online support group services.
2) Gather information
There is truth to the phrase, “Knowledge is power.” There’s no way to completely grasp the ups and downs of a cancer diagnosis and treatment – and you shouldn’t be expected to. Being armed with knowledge may help you accommodate your loved one’s needs and help you know what to expect. To learn more about your loved one’s cancer diagnosis, click here.
3) Recognize a “new normal”
Patients and caregivers alike report feeling a loss of control after a cancer diagnosis. Many caregivers are asked for advice about medical decisions or managing family finances and/or need to take on new day-to-day chores. It is likely that your tasks as a caregiver will create new routines – after all, you’re taking on a new role in your loved one’s life as well as your own.
Maintaining a balance between your loved one’s disease and the daily activities of your own life can be a challenge. It may be helpful to identify the parts of your life that you can still control – such as your own health and relationships. In doing this, you will be able to create a strategy for integrating new routines with old ones. It may also help to acknowledge that your home life, finances, and friendships may change for a period of time. Sometimes the laundry might not get done, or maybe takeout will replace home cooking. Try to manage each day’s priority as it comes. Take a deep breath and realize that the support you provide is priceless.
4) Relax your mind, recharge your body
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the tasks of caregiving. Mini-breaks are an easy way to replenish your energy and lower your stress. Try simple activities like taking a walk around the block or closing your eyes for 10 minutes in a comfortable chair. You are working hard to provide and secure the best care for your loved one. Time spent recharging your mind and body will allow you to avoid depression, major illness or burnout.
5) Take Comfort in Others
It’s common for many caregivers to feel a loss of personal time over the course of their loved one’s illness. Keep in mind that while you are taking on new and additional responsibilities, you are still allowed a life of your own. Many seasoned caregivers advise that you continue to be involved with your circle of friends and family.
6) Plan for the Future
A common feeling among caregivers and people with cancer is uncertainty. It’s hard to know what the future holds. While planning may be difficult, it can help. Try to schedule fun activities on days when your loved one is not feeling the side effects of treatment. You can also give yourselves something to look forward to by planning together how you will celebrate the end of treatment, or a portion of treatment.
Planning for a future in the long-term is also important. All of us, whether we have been diagnosed with cancer or not, should have in place necessary paperwork such as healthcare agent, power of attorney and a will. You can ask your loved one if he or she needs, or wants, assistance. Having essential paperwork under control will allow you to have peace of mind.
7) Accept a Helping Hand
It’s okay to have “helpers.” In fact, you may find that learning to let go and to say “YES!” will ease your anxiety and lift your spirits. People often want to chip in, but aren’t quite sure what type of assistance you need. It’s helpful to keep a list of all caregiving tasks, both small and large. That way, when someone asks “Is there anything I can do?” you are able to offer them specific choices.
8) Be Mindful of YOUR Health
In order to be strong for your loved one, you need to take care of yourself. It’s easy to lose sight of your own health when you’re focused on your loved one. But if your own health is in jeopardy, who will take care of your loved one? Be sure to tend to any physical ailments of your own that arise – this includes scheduling regular checkups and screenings. And just like your mother told you: eat well and get enough sleep.
9) Consider Exploring Stress-Management Techniques
Even if you’ve never practiced mind-body exercises before, you may find that meditation, yoga, listening to music or simply breathing deeply will relieve your stress. Mind-body (or stress-reduction) interventions use a variety of techniques to help you relax mentally and physically. Examples include meditation, guided imagery and healing therapies that tap your creative outlets such as art, music or dance. If this interests you, seek out guidance or instruction to help you become your own “expert” on entering into a peaceful, rejuvenated state.
10) Do What You Can, Admit What You Can’t
No one can do everything. It’s okay to acknowledge your limits. Come to terms with feeling overwhelmed (it will happen) and resolve to be firm when deciding what you can and cannot handle on your own–so that no one faces cancer alone.
Do you have your own tips for being a caregiver? Share your experience and your best tips by becoming a member of our Cancer Experience Registry: Caregivers. Your voice will help us better meet the social and emotional needs of all caregivers.