Contributor: Jamie Schwachter, BSN, MSN, NP-C
Many of the patients we see at Taussig Cancer Institute have someone at home or a close friend who is helping them. This person – a caregiver – often is a spouse, a partner, an adult child, a parent or a close friend.
If you are among the ranks of these special people, you play an important role in helping your loved one move through cancer treatment.
You may be helping with everyday needs and activities such as running errands, grocery shopping, driving to doctor’s appointments, cooking and cleaning. You might even be providing personal care such as helping with baths or changing dressings. You probably are taking care of your loved one’s emotional needs, too – by providing comfort and support, and talking through the worries and the successes.
Many of our patients’ caregivers tell us that taking care of their loved ones is a profound, intimate and deeply enriching experience.
At the same time, juggling your caregiver role with your other duties – as breadwinner, spouse or parent – can create a good deal of physical and mental stress.
If you are like most caregivers, you’re probably working full-time and have a family to take care of as well. Sometimes you may feel resentful of all the responsibilities you have shouldered, which brings on feelings of guilt.
Research has shown that the myriad of responsibilities that caregivers assume put their health at risk. They have a higher chance of developing depression and may fall into unhealthy habits such as eating poorly, not exercising, abusing alcohol and not getting enough sleep. Caregivers may be so busy that they can’t keep their own doctor’s appointments.
Sound like you? Consider this: What if you and the person you care for changed places? Would you want him or her to maintain the same frantic, health-hazardous pace?
Many caregivers feel guilty when they consider taking time to take care of themselves. But it’s so important to eat right, get enough sleep and take breaks from your responsibilities. After all, you cannot give the best of yourself if you’re run down and stressed out.
A first step might be to ease your emotions by talking them out with a trusted friend, family member, the social worker or psychiatrist on your loved one’s health care team or a group such as the 4th Angel patient and caregiver mentoring program. Talking with someone who has been through a similar experience can be helpful in knowing your feelings aren’t unusual or unique. You also can benefit with a broader perspective from someone who has been through what you are experiencing now.
Another step to take is to let others help you. You may want to keep things private and not burden others. But think of all those people who said, “If you need anything, call.” Now is the time to take them up on their offers and delegate some of your responsibilities. Ask them to run errands, shop, cook or provide childcare so that you can renew yourself by going to the gym, taking in a movie, attending religious services or having coffee with a friend.
A change in perspective can help as well. Many people focus on what needs to be accomplished. Help yourself by thinking about the good things you’re doing. Even if you’re delegating, you are getting things done.
The important thing is to take care of yourself. So make that appointment for a routine health checkup. Commit to taking a walk every day. Eat right. Talk things over with a healthcare professional or a support group. Taking care of yourself will empower you and benefit all whom you touch.