Who’s Caring for the Caregiver?
It’s not only the patient who faces serious physical and emotional challenges flowing from a cancer diagnosis. The illness and its effects can also take a toll on family and friends who support the sick loved one. Here are some ideas on how to lighten the load a bit. . .
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According to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), roughly 44 million American families and friends are unpaid caregivers for another adult. It’s they — not paid professionals — who are providing about 80 percent of the long-term care in the United States.
Even the most willing and capable of caregivers can be subject to feelings of anger, exhaustion, loneliness and sadness as they confront the daily challenges of caring for a cancer patient.
This is why it’s vital that caregivers look out for themselves while nursing the cancer patient to ensure they can continue to help the one in need. If you’re a caregiver, you need to avoid burnout.
Let’s consider some practical strategies.
We’ll start by looking at the kind of responsibilities you might have to shoulder when attending to the needs of a cancer patient.
Guess who’s doing most of the work
A study from the Journal of Family Nursing1 reported results from a survey given to 750 cancer caregivers participating in the University of Pennsylvania Family Caregiver Cancer Education Program.
The researchers noted that these individuals are typically:
1. Female (82%)
2. Married (71%)
3. Living with the patient (54%)
4. Over 50 years of age (47%)
Thus, most caregiving is done by married women, quite often they’re old enough to join AARP, and more than half the time they’re living with the patient. This doesn’t make me feel particularly proud, and I’m inclined to say the men need to pitch in.
Caregivers are often required to perform a variety of tasks, including feeding, bathing, dressing and providing companionship for the patient. Primary caregivers might also be called upon to:
1. Dispense medications.
2. Handle insurance problems.
3. Provide transportation to medical appointments.
4. Talk to doctors and other medical professionals about the patient’s progress.
5. Train other family members to provide care when necessary.
The American Cancer Society says a good caregiver is typically the person who knows everything that is going on with a patient. But this person also will help the patient to stay involved and make informed decisions.
This may sound like a serious workload—even when you’re a willing participant! This is why it’s important to ask for help to relieve stress and to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
There’s no shame in asking for HELP!
The Journal of Family Nursing study emphasized that providing care for a loved one with cancer can have a noticeable impact on the caregivers’ physical, emotional, and financial health.
The authors emphasized the need for caregivers to seek help when needed—be it from other family and friends or even from professional counselors.
When you ask others for help, it takes some of the pressure off of you. It can also free up time for you to attend to your own health concerns and personal matters.
Keep in mind that even when people offer to help, they don’t always know what kind of help you as a caregiver might need. The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests these tips for getting help from family and friends:
1. Make lists of things you need. This could include help with cleaning, cooking, shopping, yard work, etc.
2. Hold regular family meetings to provide information on the patient’s health status and care to less involved family members.
3. Ask family and friends for specific dates/times when they are available to assist. Be clear about what you need from each person.
4. To help yourself stay organized, keep notes of who has completed which tasks.
Remember that when you ask for help it also helps your loved one too! When you get help in caring for his or her needs, you’ll be healthier and more energetic to provide assistance yourself.
It can also help ease any feelings of guilt the patient may have about the time you’re sacrificing for them. Plus, you’ll be able to tap into skills of others that you might not have.
Once you’ve enlisted the aid of other family and friends, you might find you have a little extra time to…
Help yourself to some TLC!
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests several things caregivers can do to care for themselves. For one thing, NCI says it’s important that you do something for yourself every day.
This could be a small thing like spending some time with a favorite activity or hobby…
… or staying connected with friends for support…
If you had health concerns of your own before becoming a caregiver, NCI stresses the need for you to keep up with your own medical appointments, prescriptions, and diet.
Keep in mind that the added stress and responsibility of caring for a cancer patient can cause new health problems. Make sure to tell your doctor if you notice any changes in your body.
A cancer diagnosis can also provoke a number of questions, fears and concerns. Many caregivers have benefitted greatly from joining a support group.
These groups provide a forum for caregivers to talk about their feelings, as well as share advice and ways they cope with the illness. Some folks come just to listen. For many people, it helps just to know they aren’t alone.
Cancer is a life-changing event—both for cancer patients and the ones who care for them during their health crisis. As you lend your energy, love and time to help someone cope with cancer, you might discover inner strength and skills you never knew you had!