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Caregivers' Corner: Six Tips for Staying Motivated

by Betty E. Garrett, CMP

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Seek help from other caregivers. They will understand what you are going through.

At least twice a week, I would load my husband, Gene, into the car and drive the 15 miles to the hospital. There, we would wait for doctor appointments and/or sit through chemo treatments. Then, we would drive back home and get Gene settled into some sort of comfort. Only then could I prepare meals, clean the house, and tend to our joint home-based business. It didn't take long for me to realize how hard it was becoming to stay motivated. I was overwhelmed, tired, and angry at the situation. There were times when I wasn't sure I could get out of bed, much less be civil to Gene.

Finally, I said to myself, “Enough is enough.” I took a deep breath and had one of those “inner” moments where I talked to myself. I began to realize that there were things that I needed to change so that I would not lose patience with my patient. Here are six tips that helped me through those challenging moments.

1. Choose your attitude. Keep a positive attitude while embracing this chronic disease. You can look at the glass as half-full or half-empty, depending on your attitude. First, determine what can be changed and what cannot. We can change our thinking, our reactions, and our attitudes. We can learn more about the cancer. We can live in the present and not play the “what if” game. We can simplify our lives by asking for help and creating a “to do” list.

2. Reach out and touch someone. Ask for help. It shows a sign of strength, not weakness. Family and friends want to help, so let them. Let someone stay with your loved one while you take some time for yourself. Your loved one may need a break from you, too.

Determine what can be changed and what cannot. We can change our thinking, our reactions, and our attitudes.

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3. Pamper yourself. Make sure you get adequate sleep. Get a massage, a manicure, and/or pedicure. Play golf or participate in another activity that you enjoy. Go to a movie. Take a 10-minute walk outside twice a day. Take a class – cooking, karate, yoga. Use visualization, imagery techniques, or meditation to relax and relieve stress. Schedule time for an activity that can give you a sense of accomplishment.

4. Bring entertainment home. Rent a movie and pop some popcorn. Try a lighthearted movie such as Sleepless in Seattle or Meet the Fockers. Or enjoy a classic on one of the cable movie channels.

5. Record your thoughts. Get a journal and write down your thoughts. Expressing yourself on paper can help you deal with your emotions. It is okay to have those strong feelings when helping someone with cancer. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, angry, guilty, fearful, or sorrowful.

6. Seek help from other caregivers. Support groups are a wonderful forum to share one another's experiences, challenges, and victories. Your pain may be someone else's solution to a problem. They will understand what you are going through.

Some argue that it is just as difficult to be a caregiver as it is to be the person in need of caregiving because of the many roles a caregiver must play. We are the nurse, the motivator, the gatekeeper, the driver, the cook, the note taker, and chief bottle washer. I didn't dare let my guard down for fear Gene might see how much I was worried, frustrated, and overwhelmed. My one regret is that I did not seek outside help sooner.

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Betty Garrett?s passion is to develop and establish support groups through Caregivers4Cancer to assist family and friends caring for a person with cancer. For more information, to contact Betty for a presentation, or to order her new book, From Hiccups to Hospice: A Survival Guide for the Cancer Caregiver, visit www.caregivers4cancer.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2008.