By: Caylie Guinn, Health Educator – AmeriCorps Public Ally
Today, cancer is at the forefront of medical discussions and services. Agencies across the globe work to provide treatment, support, research, outreach, and education on cancer. And while the talk around cancer is stimulating awareness, one of the most importance aspects of cancer often gets overlooked: cancer caregivers. That is why Little Red Door is observing National Family Caregivers Month by discussing the vital role caregivers play in the fight against cancer.
What is a Cancer Caregiver?
Cancer caregivers are nonprofessionals who provide support for cancer patients before, during, and after their diagnoses. Caregivers may be family or friends, people who want to enrich and assist the life of a patient. They provide a wide range of assistance, from helping with daily chores to coordinating medical appointments and medications. Caregivers act as nurse, chef, confidant, assistant, and friend to loved ones battling cancer. Often, the role of a caregiver changes depending on the stages of cancer. Many caregivers, in addition to their own personal responsibilities, work full time as the physical, emotional, and mental support for their loved one.
Becoming a Caregiver
When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it can seem as if the entire world has been thrown out of order. Taking on the role of a cancer caregiver can provide stability in the life of the patient and their loved ones. Cancer caregiving can help ease the worry and uncertainty of cancer, as it allows a more personal interaction with the patient and their journey. Many caregivers find their role personally enriching and helps build a stronger relationship between them and the loved one. Most caregivers find their role to be a natural occurrence: spouses, parents, and children may take on the role with little hesitance.
Many caregivers also struggle with the stress of their role, as cancer caregiving can be frustrating, overwhelming, emotionally distressing, or even physically painful. It may not be possible to avoid these stressors entirely, but having an open dialogue with loved ones and professionals from the onset of caregiving can help. If it is not possible to talk to relatives or friends, there are many resources and support groups for caregivers (see list of resources at the end of this post). Finding support from the caregiving community can also help determine other methods of care that may not be as trying.
“You cannot pour from an empty cup”
Caregivers often devote enormous amounts of time and energy to provide for their loved one. In the face of cancer, many caregivers put their loved one’s needs well before their own. This seems like a natural decision, since caregivers want to provide the best, most normal life for their loved one.
But while this idea is heartfelt, it can be stressful and tiring on caregivers. Though it seems necessary to put your loved one’s needs ahead of your own, as the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Caregiving doesn’t only apply to the patient caring for one’s own wellbeing is just as (if not more) important. Take the time to care for yourself in all aspects.
Below are 10 tips for easing the stress of caregiving and providing for yourself. Even just a few minutes each day to focus on only yourself can work wonders for a caregiver’s vitality and ability to care for their loved one. Remember, it is not selfish to take care of yourself first your loved one will benefit the most when you are healthy, happy, and whole.
- Seek support from other caregivers.
- Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
- Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
- Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
- Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
- Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
- Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
- Organize medical information so it’s p to date and easy to find.
- Make sure legal documents are in order.
- Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!
Caregivers, We Love You!
Full time, part time, or even occasional caregiving is important to the life of someone battling cancer. Whether you are a live-in, full time caregiver, a long-distance caregiver, or something in between, remember that the life of cancer patients would not be the same without you. If you know a caregiver, take a few minutes to assist them in any way that you can. If direct caregiving is difficult, provide a hand with smaller tasks, like grocery shopping or laundry. Even just talking with the caregiver, providing them with an outlet or temporary distraction, or spending time with them can be an enormous relief.
And of course, those receiving care are incredibly important in recognizing caregivers. Your caregivers have taken on the role because they love you and want the best for your life. While the role of a caregiver is often rewarding, it can also be stressful or difficult to manage. When you see signs of stress in your caregiver, remind them that it’s okay to take care of themselves as well. Â In honor of National Family Caregivers month, continue to show your appreciation, support, and encouragement for your caregiver in any way that you can.
To cancer caregivers everywhere, Little Red Door thanks you for your time and care in the battle against this challenging disease. Caregivers are welcome to join us for our Door to Wellness activities, including our Yoga and Massage therapies. With your service, support, and love, we are all making the most of life and the least of cancer.
Additional Resources for Caregivers
- American Cancer Society
- National Cancer Institute
- Caring for the Caregiver (pdf)
- Cancer Support Community
- Help for Caregivers
- Caregiver Action Network