Ten Tips for Caregivers

Extending a helping hand

Finding out a loved one has cancer can be overwhelming. Cancer affects not only the person diagnosed but also all those who care about that person. You may be wondering, “What should I do now?” or “How can I help?” 

Here are 10 tips to help you get started

1. Find YOUR Support System

When a friend or loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it’s an emotional time. Many people find talking to other caregivers who are coping with stress, uncertainty or loneliness helps them be better caregivers.

2. Gather Information

There is truth to the phrase, “Knowledge is power.”

Learn more about your loved one’s cancer diagnosis and treatment options.

3. Recognize a “New Normal”

Patients and caregivers alike report feeling a loss of control after a cancer diagnosis. Learning how to manage this loss of control and care for your loved one will lead to a “new normal”—a new understanding of what your life is like now. It may also help to acknowledge that your home life, finances, and friendships may change for a period of time. Try to manage each day’s priority as it comes.

4. Relieve Your Mind, Recharge Your Body

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. Taking time for you is not selfish, it’s necessary. Seek ways to rejuvenate your spirit. Feeling spiritually connected can provide comfort and may also help you to put your situation into perspective.

5. Take Comfort in Others

Many caregivers 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. You will need your friends and community to give you support as you support your loved one.

6. Plan for the Future

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. It’s also important to plan for the possibility of losing your loved one. 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. 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. Keep a list of all caregiving tasks, small to large. That way, when someone asks, “Is there anything I can do?” you are able to offer specific choices.

8. Be Mindful of YOUR Health

In order to be strong for your loved one, you need to take care of yourself. Be sure to tend to any physical ailments of your own that arise as well as get regular checkups and screenings. Eat well and get enough sleep.

9. Consider Exploring Stress-Management Techniques

You may find that meditation, yoga, listening to music or simply breathing deeply will help relieve your stress. There also are mind-body (or stress-reduction) interventions that use meditation, guided imagery, and healing therapies that tap your creative outlets such as art, music or dance. Cancer Support Community affiliates offer mind-body therapy and guided imagery programs on a monthly basis. Click here to find an affiliate near you.

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. Your loved one needs you. You cannot do this alone. Together, you can get through.