When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer and you take on the role of caregiver, life dramatically shifts. Obviously, you want to be there for your loved one and support them in all the ways they need. But the many hats you begin to wear can become overwhelming.
Superheroes called caregivers
Most cancer patients receive treatment in a hospital and go home to rest and recover. It is at home where the bulk of care is needed and it is usually up to a family member to help provide for the patient’s needs. But there has been little official recognition of the needs of the caregiver who gives practically everything to be with and care for their loved one during this difficult time. Taking on the role of caregiver to a cancer patient can lead to emotional, social, even financial tolls. And while there is some support available, mainly emotional and social, the support in place may not be wholly adequate or appropriate for caregivers [i].
Recently, the National Alliance for Caregiving, the National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Support Community on Cancer Caregivers have called for more research on the challenges faced by cancer caregivers. According to Gail Gibson Hunt, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, cancer patients are second to dementia patients in their need for help from a caregiver. With over 3-million cancer caregivers currently in the United States, proper support must be provided so everyone comes through this trying time healthily. Ms. Hunt has called for an in-depth look into the needs of caregivers to provide them the best possible support [ii].
But until further research is complete, it is still important for cancer caregivers and their families to take care of themselves, just as they did before their loved-one’s diagnosis. Here are 6 tips that will help alleviate some of the stresses of being a caregiver: [iii]
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask another family member or friend to take on certain tasks so caring isn’t all on you all the time.
- Schedule some “me-time”. Take time each day to catch up with yourself. Go for a walk, exercise, catch up on your life, see a friend. Just make sure your focus isn’t only consumed by your current life situation.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Keeping your health and energy in check is necessary for proper caregiver support. Focus on getting as many fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein into your diet as possible.
- Talk it out. You are going through a lot and feeling a lot of different emotions. Talk to friends and family and tell them what you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to talk to a professional if you think you need it.
- Speak with your employer. Be open about your situation and your loved-one’s diagnosis. Find out what, if any, benefits your company provides and know your legal rights. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to certain employees. You can read more about the FMLA here. [iv]
- Know that you’re doing the best job.