A cancer diagnosis is never an easy one to receive. There is a lot to process, and there are many new terms to understand and treatments to consider. And this doesn’t just apply to the recipient of the diagnosis; when you become the caregiver of a loved one with cancer, you also have a lot of new information to understand, and thoughts and feelings to work through.
Caring for a loved one with cancer is not a role you can prepare for, but it is absolutely a role you can learn. Much of it might be trial and error; however, gathering tips from those who have already experienced it can save a lot of time, money and heartache in the long run. Here are four tips to consider if you’ve recently started caring for a loved one with cancer.
Cancer is a serious illness that typically requires a significant amount of doctor appointments and treatments, which can be time consuming. Coming up with ways to stay organized can help cut down on unnecessary stress, both at home and at the appointments. Need some organizational ideas to try? Consider these:
- Keep a journal of symptoms or side effects that your loved one is experiencing and bring it to doctor appointments with you. It will enable you to address all of your questions and concerns with the doctor when you have their attention during an appointment.
- Set up a shared calendar, either a hard copy or digital, to help keep track of your loved one’s treatment and appointment schedule in order to support them while also balancing your own obligations outside of their illness.
- Put all of your notes from doctor appointments in one place, such as a folder or binder. Include all prescription drug information, which can help your loved one’s team of doctors keep track of how certain drugs might be interacting with one another.
- Get more tips when you download 10 Tips for Being a Health Advocate.
Check In With Work
Many caregivers have to balance their caregiving duties with a full-time or part-time job, which can be an incredibly stressful tightrope walk at times. If you are employed, you should check in with your employer to see if they offer benefits that can help alleviate some of that stress. While benefits will vary from employer to employer, there are a few federal and state programs that you could opt into, including:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): You can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from your job thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Eligibility will vary based on the size of the business you work for, but this law allows you to take the time off you need without worrying about losing your job.
- Paid Family Leave: A variety of states have enacted laws that allow employees to take paid leave to care for an ill family member. Check the National Conference of State Legislatures website to see if your state offers family medical leave.
Take Time for Yourself
When people talk about being a caregiver, they often mention the comparison to flight attendants telling you to put your own oxygen mask on first in case of emergency, before assisting others. This rings true because if you are run down or burnt out, the quality of the care you can provide your loved one will become diminished. It might seem unreasonable to put yourself first when someone you love is going through something so challenging, however, it will serve you both well if you stay healthy, both physically and emotionally. Here are some ways you can practice self-care as a caregiver:
- Take time for yourself. Whether you want to listen to a podcast, read a book, or simply sit in silence and scroll mindlessly on your phone, building in time to your day that helps you refocus and recenter yourself will have a big impact on your well-being.
- Eat well. It can be easy to grab food on the go, or forget to eat for periods at a time, but fueling your body with healthy, nutritious food is essential to your role as a caregiver.
- Exercise regularly. It doesn’t matter if you like to run, bike, walk or swim, moving your body can not only help support you physically, but mentally as well. Physical activity can help clear your mind and lower your levels of stress and anxiety.
- Share your feelings. Whether you realize it or not, you have a wide support system that ranges from friends and family to the clergy or a professional therapist. Regardless of where you choose to turn to unburden yourself, the goal is to not keep things bottled up inside but to process your feelings.
Seek Help When Needed
It’s not always possible to do everything on your own, so knowing when you need to bring in support is crucial when caring for a loved one with cancer. There are many different support groups that help caregivers with the heavy and complicated feelings that can come along with caring for a loved one with cancer. Check with the hospital where your loved one is receiving treatment to see if they have a group you can join, or do a Google search in your area to find a support group.
Additionally, know that Right at Home’s professional caregivers are always here to help. Whether you need respite care, or simply need coverage a few hours a week, Right at Home has your back.