Caring for Caregivers

How to Cope When You’re Caring for a Loved One with Cancer

When a person is told “You have cancer”, life changes – not only to the cancer patient, but to those who love and care about him/her as well. This is especially true for the person who is going to help the patient get through the cancer experience – the caregiver. In most cases, the primary caregiver is a spouse, a partner, an adult child or may even be a close friend.

Your Role as a Caregiver                              

As a caregiver, you may find yourself helping with day-to-day activities such as doctor visits or preparing food. Often, you may also need to give emotional support and help your loved one cope and work through the many feelings that appear during this time by talking, listening or just being there for him/her. Many caregivers feel stressed because of the added responsibility of caring for the patient while balancing work, household chores and other tasks. However, your care and support are as crucial for the wellbeing and positive recovery of your loved one as any medical treatment which he/she may be undertaking.

Being a caregiver is never an easy task. Depending on the stages of cancer, it can be challenging and demanding physically and emotionally. Usually, caregivers tend to be so busy and concerned about the person who has cancer that they don’t pay attention to their own wellbeing. But over the long run, it is very important that you take an effort to care for yourself. Taking care of yourself will give you strength and capability to help others.

Below are suggestions on how to care for yourself when you are a caregiver for a loved one with cancer.

1)      Managing Emotions

You may be filled with a melange of emotions as you watch your loved one struggle with cancer. You may be sad, angry or guilty that you are healthy while he/she is not, concerned with how he/she is coping with the disease, or you may be worried about bills, your family, or ending up alone.

It’s perfectly ok to cry or express your feelings to a trusted friend or when alone. You don’t have to put up a strong façade all the time and pretend to be cheerful. Give yourself time to cope with the changes you and your loved one may be going through.

Nevertheless, if you find yourself being sad all the time for more than two weeks, and it is affecting your ability to work or function properly in your daily life, you might be having depression. Don’t think that you need to tough it out without any help. You can seek out your healthcare provider, a trusted friend, or obtain free counselling from NGOs such as Befrienders Malaysia (03-79568144), Malaysian Mental Health Association (03-77825499) and DBKL Counselling Service (1-800-88-2600).

2)      Living Healthily

As a caregiver, you need to take care of your health even more. It is important to ensure that you are eating a balance and healthy diet. While you plan for your loved one’s daily diet, plan for yours as well. Eating on-the-go is often a source of poor diet. Also, remember to drink sufficient water each day and abstain from unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption.

Having regular exercise is also beneficial as it boost your immunity and energy levels, alleviates tress and lifts your spirit. Even simple activities like taking a walk, stretching or doing yoga at home to a video offers great benefits. At night, go to bed early to make sure you get enough rest.

3)      Making Time for Yourself

Having some ‘me’ time is crucial for the wellbeing of a caregiver. In turn, it can even help you to become a better caregiver. Try to do something for yourself every day, even though it may just be a few minutes. You could watch a TV programme, read a good book, listen to your favourite music or spend some time on your hobbies, such as gardening or scrapbooking.

Spending time with yourself allows you to take a break from your daily responsibility and chores. It also allows you to find meaning in daily life and makes you more emotionally balanced. It keeps you from feeling drained by the needs of your loved one by shifting your focus back to your own life temporarily.

4)      Connecting with Other People

Studies show that connecting with other people is vital for most caregivers. It’s especially helpful when you feel overwhelmed.

Find ways to connect with friends. Are there places you can meet others who are close to you? Who can you chat or interact with by phone, email or social network? You can also join a support group. For instance, the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) Resource & Wellness Centre (03-2698 7300) offers a range of cancer support services and organises various activities such massage and exercise classes, yoga, line dancing, etc. to newly diagnosed patients, survivors and caregivers. A support group can be a great source for encouragement and advice from others in similar situations. It allows you to know that you are not alone and can be a good place to make new friends.

5)      Receiving Help from Others

Many caregivers fall into the trap of believing that they have to do everything by themselves. Do not make that mistake. Asking for help or letting others help can take away some of the pressures you are facing and allow you time to take care of yourself. Family and friends often want to help but may not know how or what you need. Start with looking at the areas where you need help and make a list. Organise regular family meetings to keep everyone up-to-date and use this time to plan the patient’s care. Examples of chores which others can lend a hand are cooking, cleaning, shopping, childcare, eldercare and helping with driving errands.

6)      Being Positive & Finding Meaning

It can be hard finding positive moments when you’re busy caregiving. But looking for the good things in life will definitely help you feel better. Each day, take a moment to feel good about anything that is positive – a nice sunset, the fresh smell of newly cut grass, a rainbow after the rain, or something funny that you heard or read. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and try to look for a bright side in every situation. Having spiritual or religious beliefs can also give you enormous strength to cope with everyday challenges and uncertainty in the future.

While caregiving is many times stressful, it can also be rewarding. Some caregivers feel that they have been given the chance to rebuild or strengthen a relationship. You may also find that cancer helps you to value life more. When someone you love has cancer, you may begin to rethink your priorities in life. Some caregivers and their loved ones may decide to do the things that they had always wanted to do together. Others don’t make a lot of changes. Instead, they take each day as a gift and cherish the time they still have with their loved ones. Truly, with some effort, you and your loved one may live each day more fully than ever before, even though the future is unknown.

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