Tips for Caregivers
When someone is facing a serious illness others around them can feel helpless. In fact, there are practical ways to help. Read the tips below or download the card.
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Talk to others in your unique position.
One of the best ways to cope with the stress, uncertainty and even loneliness that may come with caregiving is to talk with fellow caregivers who share similar experiences.
This specific set of friends (new or old) can share effective ways to communicate about cancer, help you cope with your reactions to the disease, and help you learn about your new role as a caregiver.
Only you can determine which type of support system works for your lifestyle, goals, and schedule. The only bad decision is to not seek support at all. It's easy to feel overcome by the responsibilities of caregiving – but you should remember that others are thinking about how to support YOU, too.
Information is power.
Caregiving is easier when you understand what a person with cancer is experiencing. You wouldn't attempt to build a house without studying carpentry, or adopt a pet without knowing what it requires – the same is true with a cancer diagnosis. Read up! Find creditable resources and learn about the specific diagnosis, treatment options and how to manage side effects. You'll feel more confident.
There is no way to completely grasp the ups and downs of cancer – and you shouldn't expect to – but being armed with knowledge will help you accommodate your loved one's needs and help you feel a greater sense of control by knowing what to expect.
Consider learning about the stage of cancer, the possibility of relapse, recommended treatments and the side effects of cancer medications.
You can't do it all – at least not right now.
Patients and caregivers alike report feeling less control over their lives as they face the roller coaster of emotions that cancer brings. Without fail, your responsibilities as a caregiver will create new routines in your life. After all, for the time being, you are taking on a new level of support in the patient's life in addition to maintaining your own needs.
There are ways that you can retain control over your daily routines to save you from becoming too stressed. It is important to maintain a balance between managing the needs of your loved one and the daily activities in your life.
Identify the parts of your life you can still control – such as your own health and relationships. Stay as organized as possible so you can control your calendar and your time, while you aim to integrate new responsibilities with old ones.
You will have to be patient and accept that familiar patterns of your life will change at different periods of time. Sometimes the laundry won't get done. Sometimes takeout will replace home cooking. It helps to prioritize! Ask yourself: What is most important to do right now vs. later? What can other people help with? And try not to be hard on yourself – don't rush – you'll do the best you can.
Taking time for yourself is not selfish.
Even if you're working hard to keep a normal atmosphere, you still need time to recharge your mind and body, and to avoid depression or burnout.
Once you come to the conclusion that you can only do the best you can (and you can't do it all), you will find that you can remain present for the person you are helping. The patient will benefit most from being with you when you have your own life balanced.
Balance is about finding ways to take a break from caregiving to rejuvenate your spirit. For some, this is a 10 minute walk around the block or a phone call to a friend; for others it's making plans to take a short vacation. This can also include tapping into your spirituality, whether or not you participate in a religious tradition. Prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices are some techniques to ease distress; as are an exercise routine; music; and mind-body techniques.
Be sure to meet this need for renewed energy when you are servings as a caregiver. Even mini-breaks will do wonders for your stress levels. Every little bit of relaxation counts.
Strength comes from the support of others.
It's important to remember that you are still allowed to have a life of your own when you are caring for someone with cancer. If you can, continue to play an active role within your community of friends and family. Being with people who care about you will often give you strength and a positive attitude towards your "new normal."
Caregiving is stressful and can take up a great deal of personal time. A great way to reduce this stress is to remain involved with parts of your life that don't' include caregiving. For some, this means maintaining a role in school, faith or community functions – for others, this means weekly visits with a best friend.
You level of involvement may change over time, but you will appreciate having someone else to turn to while caring for a loved one.
No one knows what the future holds.
Often with cancer, it's important to focus on the present - and to make the most of each moment. However, planning for the future is also important; especially in terms of practical matters.
Planning for the future includes taking care of the financial and legal issues surrounding a cancer diagnosis. There are different roles you can take. Some caregivers help to gather paperwork and get questions answered around insurance, wills and get powers of attorney documents. Other caregivers are not involved in this process, but offer other support when asked.
Facing cancer reminds us to get our plans in order, and though these plans may not be needed for years to come, this could be a good time for both you and your loved one to prepare. Ask your loved one if they need or want assistance with their legal and financial matters. Having these plans under control now will help everyone involved gain peace of mind for the future.
Learn to have helpers.
Friends, neighbors, and family often want to chip in with caregiving and this can be quite helpful. Allow yourself to feel replenished by friends' gestures for help or other kindness.
Don't be afraid to delegate responsibilities to volunteers: ask one person to help feed pets and another to help with food shopping. Remember that most people say, "Is there anything I can do?," because they want to help but don't know what you need. Show them your list. Allow others, who may also consider themselves caregivers for your loved one, to share in responsibilities. This will not only help lighten your load, but will also show the person with cancer how many people truly want to help.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
It's easy to lose sight of your own health when you're focused on helping someone else get better. But if your own health starts to slip, who will be your loved one's caregivers?
Just like your mother always told you; eat well, get enough sleep, and build exercise into your schedule. Tend to any physical ailments that arise. To be present for your loved one, you need to take care of yourself.
Find ways to relax.
Sometimes it's hard to build anti-stress activities into your life; however, it's impossible to make time for realization.
Believe it or not, you can reach the natural state in which you feel fully relaxed. Experiencing the "mind-body connection" lets you feel that sense of peace is possible in any moment, regardless of the stress and crisis around you.
Relaxation exercises are designed to enhance your mind's capacity to affect bodily functions and responses. Research increasingly shows that stress-reduction techniques can improve quality of life. Examples include: tai-chi, yoga, meditation, imagery, deep breathing, prayer, and therapies that use creativity outlets such as art, music or dance.
Define what you can reasonably do and what you can't do to help.
It's OK to tell yourself there are limits to your caregiving. Your help is still very valuable.
It's easy to get caught in the whirlwind of appointments, daily errands and medication doses for your loved one. Come to terms with feeling overwhelmed (it will happen!) and be firm when you can't do something to help.
One way to cope with this is to keep a journal (especially when you feel like you are hitting your limits). Writing in a journal can give you a place to vent frustrations, list priorities and problem solve without causing conflict. It will keep your feelings private, while helping you release your feelings of distress.
Another way is to keep a handy list with the phone numbers/contact information of people you can reach out to who can step in to help when you can't.
Get the facts.
Learn as much as you can about the type of cancer your loved one has, including potential health issues and how to handle pain.
Encourage your loved one to manage discomfort before it gets bad.
Try to manage pain as it starts, so medication won't need to play "catch-up." Always have sufficient medication on hand to control nausea and other side effects of cancer treatment. Your loved one's doctor can determine a good medication schedule and provide tips.
Keep germs away.
People with cancer have impaired immune systems, and are more susceptible to illness. Play "germ police" for your loved one – advise sick visitors to stay home; keep and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keeping the patient as healthy as possible during treatment is the best way to a speedy recovery.
Dont' just barge in on your loved one – respect their need to be alone, be discrete about when to share information and with whom (always ask first), and respect their decisions. This is your loved one's body, and their live.
Take a step back.
Don't assume your loved one needs you for everything. Ask if he or she needs help before giving it. Chances are, you'll know when you are needed.
Cancer treatment and recovery often requires home rest or bed rest – but this does not mean you can't have fun! Help alleviate the doldrums with movies, books, or games. Sometimes even the smallest distractions can make someone's day better.
Honor quiet moments.
At times, it may seem like quiet is hard to come by. Soft music, aromatherapy (when tolerable) and warm baths offer much in the way of comfort – for both you and the patient.
Listening and asking questions can be some of the greatest ways to take care of your loved one. Sometimes just letting them "vent" is very helpful. Other times, you can speak up when your loved one is too weak, or listen to the doctors' advice when they may not be able.
Caregiving information the Cancer Support Community's Frankly Speaking About Cancer book.