Cancer Caregiving

Cancer Caregiving:  Caring For Yourself While Caring For Others 

If you are helping someone who has been diagnosed with cancer you are a cancer caregiver. For the majority of cancer patients, family members are often the ones who bridge the gap in care and provide the physical and emotional support that a loved one diagnosed with cancer needs.  A cancer diagnosis can be devastating not only to the patient, but to the family members and loved ones as well. Strong emotions such as fear, sadness, anxiety, depression and anger are commonly felt and must be navigated by both patient and caregiver.   Caregiving through cancer can be a beautiful gift of love and care to a family member or friend, but it can also be exhausting, challenging and isolating.  Finding balance throughout your caregiving journey is important to keep up your energy and endurance during this often very difficult time.  

Remember your role is an important one.  Providing excellent physical and emotional care is essential to the wellbeing of the patient. But being a cancer caregiver isn’t easy.  It is a 24/7 job often with little breaks and support .  The days and nights can be long, filled with doctor appointments, running a household, additional chores and personal care for the patient.  The majority of caregivers also work full time, may be raising children or providing financial support for the family member they are taking care of.  If your spouse is the one suffering from cancer you may also be managing the emotions and fears of other family members and children. Emotionally and physically being a caregiver can be challenging on so many different levels. 

All too often overlooked, a caregiver’s physical, emotional, and mental health is critical to the well-being of the person who has cancer. It is important to keep top of mind that to be a good caregiver, you must first take good care of yourself.  With limited hours in the day and fading energy this is often difficult to do.  The first step in removing barriers to taking care of yourself is to ask yourself these three very important questions:

  1. What does taking care of yourself look like?
  2. Why is prioritizing your needs so difficult to do?
  3. How can I take care of myself, while taking care of my loved one?

Since stress can impact your physical and emotional health it is important to find creative solutions to manage it.  Believe it or not taking care of yourself will give you more energy to get through the often long and difficult days.  Here are four tips to get you started.

  • Explore New Ways To Communicate:  Open honest communication with your loved one is so important at this time.  Take the time to sit down and talk openly and really listen to one another’s needs at this time.  It is common during difficult times to want to hold back emotionally in order to protect hurting one another.  But by not expressing feelings openly much can get lost at a time when it is okay to be scared, fearful and vulnerable.  Remember that communication is key when it comes to being a cancer caregiver.  Acknowledge that you might sometimes get moody or have disagreements about care, but point out that you are on the same team and that you are fighting this battle together.  Acknowledge how difficult this is for both of you. Remember that listening openly is sometimes the best thing that you can do for your cancer patient.  Often times we rush in to fix things, but remember sometimes listening openly and just being present for your loved one is the best thing that you can do. 
  • Take Care of Yourself Physically:   It is very common to neglect your physical needs when you are stressed, overtaxed and overwhelmed.  You may not be eating well or sleeping well and any sort of exercise routine has fallen to the wayside.  It is like a double-edged sword, but remember that when you take care of yourself physically you will have more energy to better take care of others.  If you are unable to leave the house, find some space to try some yoga or other physical activity.  If you can get outside a twenty minute walk or bike ride will do you wonders.  Remember to eat regularly and nutritiously dense foods.  And most importantly try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. 
  • Find Your Support System:  Acknowledge that being a patient caregiver is tough.  Thinking this or sharing this with others does not make you weak or make you love your loved one any less.  This is a difficult situation it is physically exhausting and emotionally draining.  You are taking care of others, but you might also need someone looking after your own emotional needs.  Finding your support system is so important.  It could be a close friend that is a great listener, who you can confide in.  It could be another family member that has the time and emotional space to listen to your concerns.  It could also be a support group.  There are many support groups that focus just on patient caregivers. Sharing and receiving support from others on a similar journey can be empowering and can help lessen anxiety and bring more hope to your day to day.
  • Engage in Activities That Are Not Cancer Related:  Give yourself permission to have some fun and joy. And don’t feel guilty – it is okay to regain some moments of normalcy and carefree activity.  You can engage in these activities with or without your loved one.  Do you like to listen to music?  Take the night off and listen to a live band.  Spend an afternoon at the beach. Or go to the movies. Don’t forget who you were or what you enjoyed before your loved one’s cancer diagnosis.

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