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Survival Tips for the Cancer Caregiver

by Carol Miller

Wellness image

Make time to do something for yourself. Take a walk, read a book, go shopping.

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it affects the entire family, not just the person who has cancer. Significant others can feel helpless because they may want to “fix it” but can’t. Family members go through similar stages of emotions – denial, disbelief, anger, grief, acceptance – as cancer survivors do. They may also experience feelings of depression, frustration, worry, confusion, stress, guilt, sadness, and hope. Family members must deal with the added responsibilities of caring for a loved one, along with the pressures of work, school, and family. They are also facing new issues of finances, medical insurance coverage, and loss of work time.

Taking care of a loved one can be draining, both physically and emotionally. Caregiving includes giving physical support, such as helping with daily chores and taking the survivor to medical appointments and treatments, and giving emotional support by being there when needed, listening, talking, and showing care and concern.

Every situation is unique, and everyone copes differently. However, no matter the situation, a caregiver is of little help to his or her loved one if he or she is stressed, depressed, exhausted, or in poor health. Therefore, it is important to take care of yourself in order to be able to care for others. The following are some tips and suggestions to help accomplish that goal:

Care for your own physical needs.
Have a physical outlet such as exercise, jogging, yoga, cycling, etc. Eat healthy, and don’t skip meals or eat on the run. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and rest.

It is important to take care of yourself in order to be able
to care for others.

Author of Article photo

Carol Miller

Make time to do something for yourself.
Take a walk, read a book, go shopping, take a ride, relax in the tub, do gardening, watch TV, work on a hobby, etc. If necessary, have someone cover for you while you take a short break.

Find less time-consuming ways to update family and friends.
Designate someone else to take phone calls and update friends and family on the survivor’s condition and progress. Have your answering machine or voice mail pick up phone messages and respond when you are able. Use e-mail to respond to and update friends and family on your loved one’s condition when convenient.

Accept help from others.
Friends and family members want to feel useful, but many don’t always know what to say or do. Ask them to pick up the kids at school, go grocery shopping, cook meals, etc.

Seek support.
Talk with a social worker, psychiatrist, or religious leader. Find help to cope with your own feelings of depression, anger, and fear. Join a support group and share your feelings and concerns with people who are going through the same experience. Receive help with coping skills, exchange ideas and suggestions with others, and just realize you are not alone. Surf the Internet for online caregiver support groups and forums.

Attend to your emotional and spiritual well-being.
Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, and muscle relaxation. Find spirituality in faith and prayer. Visit your place of worship, meditate, read inspirational books, and share these thoughts and experiences with your loved one.

Know your limitations.
Realize you cannot do it all alone. Swallow your pride, and ask for help from others.

“Knowledge is power.”
Understand the importance of gathering information from doctors, nurses, other survivors, reading material, the Internet, and other resources. Becoming better informed gives you some sense of control and involvement. It helps you know what questions to ask the doctor and to assist your loved one in making choices and informed decisions.

Be positive.
Find something positive in the situation or something to be thankful for – the cancer experience has brought you and your loved one closer together, you found support from family and friends, you enjoyed a simple hug or phone call.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Carol Miller is a 30-year breast cancer survivor and a Reach to Recovery volunteer. She has also facilitated breast cancer support groups

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2008.