As the primary informal caregiver for someone with cancer, you probably know what an important role you play in the life of the patient. Caregivers have a tremendous influence on the life of the cancer patient, and can be responsible for helping with everything from the patient’s treatment plan to their basic nutritional needs or other household duties. Cancer caregivers may be spouses, partners, family members or even close friends, who usually don’t receive any kind of training for their new role
as physical and emotional support system, and who may act as the daily lifeline of the person with cancer.
Many caregivers find that the effort to provide care for their patient requires previously untapped reserves of energy, empathy and patience. Some caregivers become so absorbed in managing both the care of their loved one and their own busy lives, that they aren’t prepared for some of the unique concerns that often arise. Here are three concerns to consider:
Many caregivers find that over time, they begin to isolate themselves
from other friends and family members that may fall outside of their immediate circle of care. When all of your energy and time is being spent on caregiving, it can be easy to convince yourself that this isolation is necessary in order to keep some energy in reserve. Caregivers may experience feelings of guilt about enjoying social engagements or maintaining other relationships with friends and family, and may find themselves staying home or otherwise isolating themselves more. Some friends and neighbors may start to gradually slip away, either because they have become exhausted by the stories about caregiving, or don’t want to be reminded of the unpleasant challenges that life can sometimes present.
Making an extra effort to maintain friendships and relationships outside of the caregiver/patient relationship is critical for the mental health and well-being of caregivers. Be sure to schedule social time at least weekly, for a quick coffee with an understanding friend, a walk around the block with a trusted neighbor or lunch with a favorite family member. If you find it difficult to relate to friends of family who may not understand fully what you are going through, consider reaching out to local cancer caregiver support groups
, either in person or online.
Physical or emotional stress.
Managing the care of someone else, even while you keep up with the needs of your own life, can be extremely stressful
. Caregivers often find that with so many different tasks to juggle, from managing medications to cooking, bathing or maintaining the home, this stress can become overwhelming. Practicing stress management techniques like regular exercise, deep breathing, meditation or spiritual work, focusing on a healthy diet, or even something as simple as scheduling brief 10 minute breaks throughout the day can help ease the burden. If you find yourself overscheduled, consider asking a community caregiver support group for help with things like meal delivery or running errands.
For many long-term caregivers, financial burdens can often become a real concern
. In addition to the practical financial problems associated with taking care of someone else, like medical bills and medication costs, many caregivers also find themselves putting their careers on hold to take care of a loved one, or skipping educational opportunities that could lead to higher paychecks. Reach out to family and friends, and find out if they would be willing to accept some of the duties you have assumed to relieve both stress and financial burden. Work with your insurance company and your hospital’s billing department on payment plans or structures, and check into government programs (including disability or home health care) that can help, by contacting your local Medicaid or social services office.
Remember that in order to be most effective in your role as caregiver, you must also take care of yourself. Being aware of the unique concerns that caregivers commonly face can help you cope with them as they arise, keep you functioning at your physical and emotional best, and allow you to provide the greatest possible care for the person you love.