Caregivers play a vital role in the lives of cancer patients. But when you are busy caring for a loved one with cancer, who’s taking care of you? It’s common for caregivers to neglect their own health when coping with the demands of such an important job. Exhaustion and persistent stress levels are common and can leave you vulnerable to illness. That’s why it’s extremely important to take care of yourself, stay healthy, and manage day to day stress. Here are a few tips to help you cope:
- Be kind to yourself. Do something for yourself each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
- Be active. Light exercise, such as walking, can improve your mood and reduce stress.
- Find ways to connect. Share your feelings with a supportive friend or fellow caregiver. Let them know you do not expect solutions; you just want a sympathetic ear. Join the CancerConnect community or attend a caregiver support group.
- Seek diversion. Visit friends, laugh, see a movie, take up a hobby or just rest.
- Set priorities and timetables. Break down large tasks into smaller parts to reduce stress.
- Make healthy food choices. Eat less salt, sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods, and more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and water. Poor nutrition can affect how you feel physically and increase your risk of getting sick. Check out some of these healthy recipes.
- Ask for help. Learn to accept offers of help and to ask for help. Make a “needs list” and the next time someone offers to help, be ready with a task. If you are the only caregiver, talk with a patient navigator or a social worker at Roswell Park about respite care programs that can provide you with a needed break.
- Just say no. Say no and stick to it! Be realistic about the time and energy you have left after caregiving.
- Be knowledgeable. Learn about your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment so you have a sense of what to expect. Become familiar with the terms used in describing their condition. Understand all the options, risks, and benefits before making a treatment decision.
- Ask questions. If you have questions or you do not understand something you heard, call the doctor. For help with insurance rules and regulations, contact your insurance company. Many insurance companies will assign a case manager to address your concerns.
- Fill out a proxy form. A healthcare proxy makes health care decisions when the patient is unable to do so. If a patient without a proxy becomes incapable of making health care decisions, New York State will assign the legal next-of-kin as Proxy.
- Learn about FMLA. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal program that allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to care for a family member.
It may be challenging to find the time and energy to care for yourself, but in the long run it will help you become a better and more supportive caregiver. For more information, useful resources and peer support visit the Caregiver Action Network.