Watching someone you love receive a cancer diagnosis is a devastating experience. When a close family member or friend is battling cancer, the emotional stress on the caregiver can be equal to what the patient is experiencing. Most caregivers place their own needs on hold in order to put all their energy into making sure their loved one is getting what they need. What many do not realize is their own battle to cope with this difficult journey.
The caregiver paradox is that order to take care of others, you have to look after yourself. Here are the strategies I recommend to the caregivers of my patients.
- Take care of your physical health. As much as possible, remember to rest, recharge, and focus on your own well being. It may seem selfish to exercise or go out of your way to maintain a healthy diet, but these are small things you can do for yourself that will help you be a better caregiver in the long run.
- Share your thoughts and emotions. It's important to communicate as honestly and openly as you can with your loved one. Many caregivers are afraid to show sadness or grief, but these are normal human emotions! While it is good to project confidence and optimism, it is also okay to be transparent with how you are coping.
- Socialize with others. As the caretaker, you are under a tremendous amount of pressure and need a support system as well. It’s important to maintain your identity and relationships throughout your loved one’s treatment and recovery process. Spending time with friends and family will provide you with a sense of support and community along the way.
- Know your limitations. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you really need it, as it is not your responsibility to shoulder the burden all alone. Friends, other family members, and the patient's healthcare team are all groups you can turn for advice, support, resources, or comfort.
- Plan for all possibilities in the future. One of the kindest things a caregiver can do for his or herself is to exercise awareness about the situation as a whole. It may seem impossible, but a caregiver must be realistic about all potential outcomes and plan accordingly. Even doing small things like collected FMLA forms from your place of employment can help reduce stress later.
- Do not blame yourself. Many caregivers carry a tremendous amount of guilt that they were not the one who was diagnosed with cancer. If you are feeling this way, you are not alone. However, the ‘what if’ game is not a healthy way of coping with cancer as difficult as this may be to accept.
I often tell new caregivers that 'the future is the future' and encourage them to do the best they can to live in the moment. When it comes to cancer, there are so many things that are outside of our control, but positivity of the mind is a powerful tool. Implementing very small changes to decrease stress and maintain an optimistic outlook are steps you can actually take that will make a real difference.
Early detection can save your life. Find information on cancer screenings and learn more about which screenings you may need.