Caring for the Caregiver

Frequently, caregivers do not have enough time for themselves. Attending to the needs of a loved one with cancer can be demanding and unpredictable. It is common for caregivers to feel overextended and pulled in many different directions. Wanting time to recharge is not only understandable, it is a crucial part of taking care of yourself. Aim to schedule breaks when possible — spend the time doing something you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, jogging, meditating, soaking in a hot bath, watching television, getting lost in a video game or just taking a nap. Think of relaxation as planned time-outs. You may need to make a contract with yourself to set aside an hour or two a week or perhaps just 20 minutes a day to relax. Remember that taking care of yourself helps you give your loved one the best care possible.

Acknowledge your feelings. It is perfectly normal for caregivers to experience feelings of loss or sadness over how cancer has changed a special occasion. You may also experience a wide range of other emotions such as disappointment or worry about the future. This is normal. Sometimes caregivers feel they must put on a happy face so as not to alarm family, friends or their loved one with cancer. Try not to hold in all your feelings. Instead, speak with someone you trust, such as a loved one, chaplain or professional counselor. A member of your loved one’s health care team, like a social worker or patient navigator, should also be able to speak with you or make a referral.

Share any concerns surrounding the special occasion. If you have specific concerns or requests about the upcoming occasion, it is important to speak with others and make a plan if at all possible. For example, if you will be attending a social gathering but worry you may become emotional, you might consider talking to the host in advance. Tell them you would appreciate their understanding if you need a little time or privacy to collect yourself.

Recognize that you are doing your best. Take time to acknowledge all your efforts to care for your loved one and all you are doing to make the special occasion memorable and enjoyable for everyone involved

Celebrate the strengths you and your loved ones have developed. Cancer can be emotionally, financially and physically draining for the person living with cancer and their caregivers. By facing the day-to-day challenges of living with cancer, many families discover previously unknown strengths and courage. For example, you may recall how brave your loved one was during a complicated surgery or while receiving chemotherapy. You may have been surprised when your loved one agreed to let a neighbor drive him to treatment, even though he had always been shy about asking for help. Reflect on the strengths you have developed and build on them during the holidays.

As a caregiver, it is important to stay flexible. Do not expect yourself to do everything, take time to recharge your own batteries, and if you need help, reach out.