All family caregivers need support

But you may feel that your needs aren’t important right now since you’re not the cancer patient. Or that there’s no time left for yourself. You may be so used to taking care of someone else that it’s hard for you to change focus. But caring for your own needs, hopes, and desires can give you the strength you need to carry on.

Ways to Take Care of Yourself
Taking time to recharge your mind, body, and spirit can help you be a better caregiver.

You may want to think about the following:

Make time for yourself

  • Find Time to Relax. Take at least 15-30 minutes each day to do something for yourself. For example, try to make time for a nap, exercise, yard work, a hobby, watching tv or a movie, or whatever you find relaxing. Do gentle exercises, such as stretching or yoga. Or, take deep breaths or just sit still for a minute.
  • Don’t Neglect Your Personal Life. Cut back on personal activities, but do not cut them out entirely. For example, look for easy ways to connect with friends.
  • Keep Up Your Routine. If you can, try to keep doing some of your regular activities. If you don’t, studies show that it can increase the stress you feel. You may have to do things at a different time of day or for less time than you normally would, but try to still do them.
  • Ask for help. Find larger chunks of “off-duty” time by asking for help. Find things others can do or arrange for you, such as appointments or errands.
  • Understand your Feelings.

Giving yourself an outlet for your own thoughts and feelings is important. Think about what would help lift your spirits. Would talking with others help ease your load? Or would you rather have quiet time by yourself? Maybe you need both, depending on what’s going on in your life. It’s helpful for you and others to know what you need.

Join a Support Group
Support groups can meet in person, by phone, or online. They may help you gain new insights into what is happening, get ideas about how to cope, and help you know that you’re not alone. In a support group, people may talk about their feelings, trade advice, and try to help others who are dealing with the same kinds of issues. Some people like to go and just listen. And others prefer not to join support groups at all. Some people aren’t comfortable with this kind of sharing.

If you can’t find a group in your area, try a support group online. Some caregivers say websites with support groups have helped them a lot.

Learn More about Cancer
Sometimes understanding your cancer patient’s medical situation can make you feel more confident and in control. For example, you may want to know more about their stage of cancer. It may help you to know what to expect during treatment, such as the tests and procedures that will be done, as well as the side effects that will result.

Talk to Others about What You’re Going Through
Studies show that talking with other people about what you’re dealing with is very important to most caregivers. It’s especially helpful when you feel overwhelmed or want to say things that you can’t say to your loved one with cancer. Try to find someone you can really open up to about your feelings or fears. Or, you may want to talk with someone outside your inner circle. Some caregivers find it helpful to talk to a counselor, such as a social worker, psychologist, or leader in their faith or spiritual community. These types of experts may be able to help you talk about things that you don’t feel you can talk about with friends or family. They can also help you find ways to express your feelings and learn ways to cope that you hadn’t thought of before.

Connect with Your Loved One with Cancer
Cancer may bring you and your loved one closer together than ever before. Often people become closer as they face challenges together. If you can, take time to share special moments with one another. Try to gain strength from all you are going through together, and what you have dealt with so far. This may help you move toward the future with a positive outlook and feelings of hope.

Write in a Journal
Research shows that writing or journaling can help relieve negative thoughts and feelings. And it may actually help improve your own health. You might write about your most stressful experiences. Or you may want to express your deepest thoughts and feelings. You can also write about things that make you feel good, such as a pretty day or a kind coworker or friend.

Look for the Positive
It can be hard finding positive moments when you’re busy caregiving. It also can be hard to adjust to your role as a caregiver. Caregivers say that looking for the good things in life and feeling gratitude help them feel better. And know that it’s okay to laugh, even when your loved one is in treatment. In fact, it’s healthy. Laughter releases tension and makes you feel better. Keeping your sense of humor in trying times is a good coping skill.

Be thankful
You may feel thankful that you can be there for your loved one. You may be glad for a chance to do something positive and give to another person in a way you never knew you could. Some caregivers feel that they’ve been given the chance to build or strengthen a relationship. This doesn’t mean that caregiving is easy or stress-free. But finding meaning in caregiving can make it easier to manage.

Caring for Your Body

You may find yourself so busy and concerned about your loved one that you don’t pay attention to your own physical health. But it’s very important that you take care of your health, too. Doing so will give you strength to help others. It’s important to:

  • Stay up-to-date with your medical needs. Keep up with your own checkups, screenings, and other appointments.
  • Watch for signs of depression or anxiety. Stress can cause many different feelings or body changes. But if they last for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.
  • Take your medicine as prescribed. Ask your doctor to give you a large prescription to save trips to the pharmacy. Find out if your grocery store or pharmacy delivers.
  • Try to eat healthy meals. Eating well will help you keep up your strength. If your loved one is in the hospital or has long doctor’s appointments, bring easy-to-prepare food from home. For example, sandwiches, salads, or packaged foods and canned meats fit easily into a lunch container.
  • Get enough rest
  • Listening to soft music or doing breathing exercises may help you fall asleep. Short naps can energize you if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Be sure to talk with your doctor if lack of sleep becomes an ongoing problem.
  • Exercise
  • Walking, swimming, running, or bike riding are only a few ways to get your body moving. Any kind of exercise (including working in the garden, cleaning, mowing, or going up stairs) can help you keep your body healthy. Finding at least 15-30 minutes a day to exercise may make you feel better and help manage your stress.

New stresses and daily demands often add to any health problems caregivers already have. And if you are sick or have an injury that requires you to be careful, it’s even more important that you take care of yourself. Here are some changes caregivers often have:

  • fatigue (feeling tired)
  • weaker immune system (poor ability to fight off illness)
  • sleep problems
  • slower healing of wounds
  • higher blood pressure
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • headaches
  • anxiety, depression, or other mood changes

Long-Distance Caregiving

It can be really tough to be away from a loved one who has cancer. You may feel like you’re a step behind in knowing what is happening with his or her care. Yet even if you live far away, it’s possible for you to give support and be a problem-solver and care coordinator.

Caregivers who live more than an hour away from their loved ones most often rely on the telephone or email as their communication link. But either of these methods can be rather limiting when trying to assess someone’s needs. Aside from true medical emergencies, long-distance caregivers often need to judge whether situations can be dealt with over the phone or require an in-person visit.

Finding Contacts Near Your Loved One
Develop a relationship with one or two key members of the health care team, such as a social worker or patient educator. It may help you feel more at ease to have direct contact with someone involved in the medical care of your loved one. Also, many long-distance caregivers say that it helps to explore both paid and volunteer support. Ways you can do this are:

  • Create a list of people who live near your loved one whom you could call day or night in a crisis or just to check in.
  • Look into volunteer visitors, adult day care centers, or meal delivery services in the area.
  • Make a list of web sites in your loved one’s area to give you quick access to resources.
  • Ask if the hospital keeps visitor information packets that list area agencies and contacts.
  • Remember to share a list of home, work, and cell phone numbers with the health care team. You should also give this to others who are local in case of an emergency.

Other Tips

  • Ask a local family member or friend to update you daily by email. Or, consider creating a web site to share news about your loved one’s condition and needs. There are a number of sites available. Examples are Caring Bridge and Lotsa Helping Hands.
  • Sign up for online ways to connect with people. Programs using video and instant messaging to communicate are very common. For example, Skype and FaceTime are ways people connect from a distance.
  • Airlines or bus lines may have special deals for patients or family members. The hospital social worker may also know of other resources, such as private pilots, advocacy organizations, or companies that help people with cancer and their families with transportation.
  • If you are traveling to see your loved one, time your flights or drives so that you have time to rest when you return. Many long-distance caregivers say that they don’t allow themselves enough time to rest after their visits.
  • Consider getting a phone card from a discount store to cut down on long-distance bills. Or, review your long-distance and cell phone plans. See if you can make any changes that would reduce your bills.