Being a caregiver to a loved one diagnosed with cancer can be challenging and overwhelming. Depending on your loved one’s needs, you may provide emotional support, practical assistance (such as help with medical care, financial issues, or insurance issues), or serve as the communication link between your loved one and the health care team. While caring for others, it is also important to take time for yourself and to look for opportunities to recharge. As a caregiver, you must recognize when you need a break so you don’t become overwhelmed or burned out.
Here are five coping tips for caregivers:
- Remember that caregiving is a team effort. You are a member of an important team that may include family, friends or volunteers, and the health care professionals. Each team member brings different skills and strengths to the group and is working towards a common goal – providing effective support and care. Let others help. If you are the primary caregiver, help each team member have input, express concerns, opinions, and emotions, and ensure that your loved one with cancer has a central role in all discussions and decisions, if possible. It is very important for the person with cancer to have a sense of control and input into care decisions.
- Seek support for yourself. Spend time with trusted friends and relatives – they often want to feel helpful so if they can help with driving, meals, cleaning, and errands, or by spending time with your loved one so that you can get a break, don’t be afraid to let them help out. Contact your cancer centre and/or organizations in your community to find support as well. You are not alone. Joining a support group yourself or having your loved one attend one gives a chance to talk with others coping with cancer and learn how they manage difficult emotions. Ask a hospital social worker for a referral, or contact MNC.We offer face-to-face, telephone, and online support groups for people with melanoma and other skin cancers.
- Consider using professional and volunteer services. These days there are many options for meal prep, delivery services, or professional home care to help with everyday activities. If you can’t afford services, your local public health may be able to help – or check with the hospital for recommendations. Some community agencies have volunteers who can help with transportation. Hospitals often have drug navigators to assist with or advocate for health insurance or other benefits. MNC can often also help with drug access or insurance issues – feel free to call us.
- Engage in some self-care! Stay active, eat well, laugh and take breaks to maintain your strength, balance, and a positive outlook. Look for things that re-energize you – maybe meditation or yoga, power naps, going for a walk, reading a good book. Recognize your own strengths and limitations as a caregiver. This allows you to set boundaries and gives you the ability to know when to ask for help. Setting limits can be beneficial to both the caregiver and care recipient; the person with cancer can exercise some independence, while the caregiver gets a needed break.
- Do a self check-in and monitor your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but having a positive mindset can help ease the stress and anxiety that goes along with a cancer diagnosis. You may not have control of what happens, but you can control how you react. It is okay to be angry, stressed out, fearful and sad, but if it is continuous or is interfering with your ability to do your regular activities, you may need additional support. Your mental health is as important as your physical health.
Reach out to a healthcare professional to discuss and identify coping strategies that are specific to you. Turn to members of the caregiving team, relatives, friends, religious or spiritual advisors, and health care professionals to help you cope. Most hospitals provide access to counsellors for all family members.
Melanoma Network of Canada also has an on-site counsellor to assist by phone and an amazing peer support program for both patients and their caregivers. Contact Mary (905-901-5121 x108 or toll free 1-877-560-8035) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.