As a caregiver, you play a crucial role on the treatment team as you work together to move your patient’s recovery forward. The caregiving role can be both rewarding and stressful, and it is vital that you balance the needs of the patient with your own physical and emotional needs.
Caregivers, like patients, can benefit from regular exercise or movement, time alone, social outings and non-cancer-related conversations. While it may be difficult to fit these things into your already-busy schedule — especially considering all the roles a caregiver plays — self-care for the caregiver should be included as part of the treatment plan because, without a healthy caregiver, the patient's care will be compromised. It’s not a matter of whether you’ll need self-care, but when you’ll need it and how you’ll achieve it.
Cancer treatment can be a difficult time for both patients and their caregivers. It can be easy to neglect your own health while providing excellent care for someone else. Exhaustion, eating poorly, persistent high-stress levels or lack of sleep can wear you down.
Remember that if you get sick, you cannot provide the care that your loved one needs. If you have health concerns or family responsibilities of your own, it is even more important — and even harder — to take care of yourself.
Here are a few tips for staying healthy, organizing the chaos and managing stress:
- Learn about your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment so you’ll have a sense of what to expect; become familiar with medical terms used by your loved one’s care team.
- Be kind to yourself. Do something for yourself each day, even for a few minutes.
- Be active. Even light exercise, such as walking, can improve your mood and reduce stress.
- 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 Roswell Park online community or take part in a caregiver support group. The Resource Center for Patients and Families has information about support groups.
- Take regular time for yourself. Rest, get together with friends, watch a movie, work on a hobby or do something else that makes you happy.
- Keep records of the patient’s doctor visits, tests, procedures, medications, allergies, side effects and adverse reactions; use a notebook or journal and write down questions for your doctor. Stop by the Resource Center for a journal you can use.
- Make healthy food choices. Eat less salt, sugar, saturated fats and processed foods, and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables — and drink plenty of water. Eating well is critical for you.
- Learn to accept offers of help and ask for help. Make a list of things you need help with so when people call to ask what they can do, you’ll have ideas ready. People do want to help.
- Say no and stick to it. Be realistic about the time and energy you have left after caregiving. Do not overextend yourself.
- If you are a sole caregiver, talk with a social worker at Roswell Park about respite care programs. Call 716-845-8022.
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. For more information, visit the websites of the U.S. Department of Labor the Caregiver Action Network.
Stop by the Resource Center to discover many other resources that will help.