The caregiver is a significant role in a cancer patient’s care. A caregiver is the person who helps the person with cancer the most, and is often the person who knows everything that is going on with the patient. Usually the main caregiver is a spouse, partner, or an adult child. In some cases, close friends, co-workers, or neighbors may fill this key part.
Being a cancer caregiver comes with a lot of tasks. One of the most important, but often forgotten, tasks for caregivers is caring for themselves. A caregiver’s physical, emotional, and mental health is vital to the well-being of the person who has cancer. To be a good caregiver, you must be good to yourself.
Below are some tips for cancer caregivers from the Cancer Support Community, an international non-profit dedicated to providing support, education and hope to people affected by cancer.
1) Find YOUR Support System
Sometimes it’s 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.
2) Gather Information
Being armed with knowledge may help you accommodate you loved one’s needs, however, and put you at ease because you know what to expect.
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 the patient’s life as well as your own.
4) Relieve 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. Taking time for yourself is not selfish – it’s necessary.
5) Take Comfort in Others
Caregiving can sometimes take a great deal of time. 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.
6) Plan for the Future
A common feeling among caregivers and people with cancer is uncertainty. 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 and can be increasingly stressful for a caregiver when sometimes, two futures are being planned – one based on survival and the other based on 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.
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.
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 – 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. Research shows that these practices can enhance the immune system as well as the mind’s ability to influence bodily function and relieve symptoms.
10) Do What You Can, Admit What You Can’t
Even seasoned caregivers find themselves caught up in the whirlwind of appointments, daily errands and medicine doses. No one can do everything. It’s okay to acknowledge your limits.
Being diagnosed with cancer, or having a loved one battling cancer, can be scary. Alliance Cancer Centers at Greenville and Clarksdale are here to help. If you have any questions, please contact our patient coordinator, either by phone or email, and we will make every effort to reply to you within 24 hours (Monday-Friday). For Alliance Cancer at Greenville, please call (662) 332-6150 and for Alliance Cancer Center at Clarksdale, please call (662) 624-8731.