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Caring for the Cancer Caregiver

caring for cancer caregiver

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it affects more than just the patient. Cancer caregivers are especially in need of some TLC during a difficult time.


Cancer. When you first hear the word, you obviously begin thinking about the patient – how they feel, how they will tolerate treatment, how they will get to each critical appointment. But we also need to think about the patient’s support system, especially the primary caregiver.

Good, reliable caregiver support is crucial to the physical and emotional well-being of the patient with cancer. In most cases, the primary caregiver is a spouse, partner, parent or an adult child. When family is not around, close friends, co-workers or neighbors may fill this role.

But over the course of cancer treatment, caregivers sometimes forget to take care of themselves.

While it can be difficult to carve out the time, caregivers who make the effort to stay healthy are better able to care for their loved ones, notes oncology social workers at Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Jersey.

Depression, for example, is common in caregivers. Yes, there is no place you would rather be than helping someone in need – but this still can take an emotional toll. Signs of depression include a long-lasting feeling of sadness or hopelessness, lack of energy, and irritability (or being easily angered).

Please remember that this is NOT a sign of weakness – we are all just human. But it does mean that something is out of balance. Just as you need time away from work to relax and renew, caregivers need some time to tend to their own well-being as well. Ignoring or denying this will not make it go away – in fact, the feelings often become stronger and have greater critical effects.

Some Tips for the Cancer Caregiver:

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• Don't feel guilty. It's normal to feel badly about doing something for yourself if your loved one is coping with cancer. It's important to identify and share these feelings in a safe place, but don't let them prevent you from addressing your own needs. You can't help someone else if your levels of energy and patience are low.

• Make a happy list. Write down some of the things that help you feel joy, such as playing a good song, going for a walk or taking a bubble bath. Be sure to carve out a bit of time to do these things.

• Find time for daily exercise. This is an important stress reliever in addition to being important for your physical strength and wellness.

• Eat a healthy diet. Even if you feel you don’t have time. Keep fresh cut vegetables in the fridge, or pre-portioned frozen meals that can be microwaved for a quick nutrition boost.

• Relax. Find ways to stay relaxed and calm. It's important to maintain healthy sleep habits. Staying relaxed may also require some breathing exercises, guided imagery or meditation. There are apps you can download to help guide you through this process.

• Ask for help. Reach out to other family and friends and create a “village”. Also ask for assistance from an oncology social worker who can devise a personalized plan to help you cope with your role as a caregiver. The American Cancer Society is also a great resource.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, news release, March 2, 2017
American Cancer Society

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By cogdogblog via Wikimedia Commons