Becoming a caregiver for a person with cancer is a long-term commitment. It’s safe to say that it is a marathon rather than a short term event. The caregiver needs to care for him or herself just as much as they care for the patient. When the person giving care thinks of themselves as a caregiver, it allows them to become an active participant and essential team member in the fight against the cancer.
Caregivers should seek a support group. Finding others who play the same role and talking can help immensely. Caregivers are in a unique position and deserve support. Many community resources are available for support. Churches, oncology social workers at the cancer centers, online support groups and more offer an opportunity to share and support one another as caregivers.
Learn as much as possible about the disease. Knowledge is power. When caring for a friend or loved one with cancer, feeling overwhelmed is natural. Approximately 90 percent of caregivers surveyed felt they were not very knowledgeable about cancer caregiving in general.
Approximately eighty percent (80%) of cancer caregivers experience high levels of emotional distress. Find credible resources and learn about the specific diagnosis, treatment options and how to manage side effects to feel more confident as a caregiver.
Embrace life’s “new normal.” Patients and caregivers alike report feeling less control over their lives as they face the roller coaster of emotions that cancer brings. Without fail, the responsibilities as a caregiver will create new routines in life. It is important for the caregiver to maintain a balance between managing the needs of the patient and the regular daily activities of life.
Find control where it still exists. Stay as organized as possible. Caregivers need to carefully control calendars and time to integrate new responsibilities with old ones. It will take patience to accept that the familiar patterns of life are disrupted and will remain so for quite some time.
Prioritize tasks and realize that sometimes, the dishes won’t get done.
Take breaks. The ability to remain an effective caregiver through the marathon of cancer caregiving is an exercise in finding balance. Balance requires finding ways to take a break from caregiving to rejuvenate the spirit and calm the mind. For some, this is a 10 minute walk around the block or a phone call to a friend; for others it’s making plans to take a short vacation. This can also include tapping into spirituality; prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices ease distress. Exercise routines, music, and meditation can also help. Remember that every little bit of relaxation counts.