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Caring for the Caregiver
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Being a caregiver to someone with cancer can be difficult. This blog post is meant to be a resource for people helping someone who is going through cancer. If you are a cancer patient, you might want to share this information with the people closest to you who are helping and supporting you during this time.

Challenges of Being a Caregiver

It can be physically and emotionally challenging to provide care to a person with cancer, especially if they will be in treatment for a long time. While you may feel dedicated and up to the task at first, over time many caregivers begin to feel the weight of the important work they are doing. It’s common to experience emotions such as anger, grief, guilt, anxiety, or depression, and it can be helpful to work through them with a professional therapist or in a support group setting with other caregivers. It is also common to experience both hope and hopelessness in varying degrees.

While all of this is normal, it can be emotionally exhausting. And while you may be tempted to put your own needs aside during this time, it’s important to acknowledge that you, too, may need help and support.

Remember— taking care of yourself allows you to take better care of your loved one.

Asking for Help

Many caregivers, looking back, wish they had asked for help sooner rather than taking everything on themselves. If you find the task of asking for help daunting, here is a list of some things others might be able to do to help you. Consider asking one person to help with one of these things. Then maybe you can ask someone else to help with another. 

Be very specific when asking for help. Many times people will not understand how much you need their help unless you ask for it directly. A vague request may not be enough. Some things you might ask people to help with include:

  • Household chores, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, childcare, or yard work
  • Driving your loved one to medical appointments
  • Shuttling children to school or activities
  • Setting up a website where volunteers can sign up to provide meals (there are many free ways to do this online)
  • Being the contact person for keeping others updated on your loved one’s situation
  • Staying with your loved one so that you can take care of other obligations or just get a break

Here are some things to remember regarding asking for help:

Some people may say no. People say no for a variety of reasons. They may be busy with problems of their own. They may not be emotionally able to deal with cancer. If this happens, try not to take it personally. Don’t give up. Ask someone else. If you don’t have anyone in your inner circle, consider turning to a faith community or agency in your area for help.

Asking for help doesn’t have to mean sacrificing privacy. You do not have to give specifics about your loved one’s medical situation. Simply saying, “he’s sick” or “she’s not feeling well” is enough of an explanation.

It’s not necessarily a burden to ask someone to help you. Many people want to help but don’t know how. Many people would want to help if they knew help was needed. Put yourself in their shoes. If someone you cared about needed your help, would you want to do what you could for them?

Make Time for Yourself

You may feel like this is not a time to focus on your own needs. Or perhaps, once you’ve taken care of obligations and your loved one’s needs, you don’t have any time left for yourself. You may even feel guilty if you try to enjoy things that your loved one can’t right now. These are all valid feelings, but if you are to carry on and be strong for your loved one, you will need to care for your own emotional health.

Caregivers need time to recharge in body, mind, and spirit. Of course, this looks different from person to person, but here are some ways you can care for your own needs, hopes, and desires so that you have the strength and resilience to better care for your loved one.

  • Include things you love to do in your schedule. This may be as simple as reading a book while you wait for a loved one at a medical appointment, taking a regular walk, playing cards, listening to music, or having a warm cup of tea in the afternoon.
  • Cut back on personal activities, but don’t cut them out completely. Attending a group or playing a sport twice a month rather than weekly will help you to remain involved.
  • Delegate some of your own responsibilities. Ask your spouse, parent, or children to help with responsibilities that you normally take on, such as household chores, errands, pet care, driving, or planning events.
  • Find easy ways to connect with friends. With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with friends. Even a lighthearted text interaction now and again with a caring friend can do a lot to lift your spirits.
  • Find a caregiver support group. Talking with others who understand what you are going through can help you work through your feelings and feel less alone.
  • Arrange for larger chunks of “off-duty” Finding respite care from a family member, friend, faith or community organization, or agency will allow you to focus on your own needs.

Here are some things to remember when considering your own needs:

Taking care of yourself doesn’t necessarily mean being away from your loved one. You can recharge with an online yoga class, a good book, and a warm beverage, working on a hobby, or gardening.

Don’t forget about your own health needs. Sometimes you can get so focused on your loved one’s health that you forget to take care of your own. Make it a priority to keep up with your medical appointments, take your medications, eat healthy, exercise, and get enough rest.

Find meaning during cancer. Cancer causes many caregivers to look at life differently and focus on what they value most. It might help to read or listen to uplifting materials, spend time in a spiritual or faith community, or to pray or meditate.

For more caregiver resources, you can visit the National Cancer Institute at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/caring-for-the-caregiver.

 

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