If someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, you are likely asking, “What should I do now?” or “How can I help?” The short answer is: you can make a difference. The following tips will help you navigate the challenges of caring for someone with cancer.
A cancer diagnosis is an emotional time for you as well as your loved one. For many people, talking to others who have shared similar experiences is an important way to cope with uncertainty, stress and loneliness. Memorial’s Centers for Cancer Support can connect you with support groups, counselors, pastors and other resources to help you find the knowledge and strength you need in your new role as caregiver.
You and your loved one are entering a journey with many ups and downs. By collecting information about cancer and its treatment, you will not only be better equipped to help your loved one, you’ll relieve some of your stress because you’ll know what to expect.
It is normal to feel like you have lost control after a cancer diagnosis. Your role as a caregiver will require you to shift your focus and adopt new routines. It can help to consciously remind yourself that many aspects of your life may be different for a while. Familiar household routines may need to change. The important thing is to take it as it comes and know that the support you provide is a profound gift. You can also clearly identify the parts of your life where you still do have control — including your own health and relationships. This will help you blend new routines with old ones.
Stress is a natural part of the experience. You will need to find ways to release it and renew your energy levels so you can be there for your loved one. Simple things like taking a walk or pausing to take deep breaths can make a world of difference. Remember, the your loved one benefits the most when you are healthy and your life is balanced.
Uncertainty is one of the most difficult aspects of cancer. Planning can help you bring structure to both your lives. Schedule enjoyable activities when your loved one is feeling well. Think about how you will celebrate the completion of the phases of treatment. Planning for the longer-term is difficult but equally important. You should have essential paperwork ready such as healthcare agent, power of attorney and a will. Talk to your loved one about their needs and wishes. Beginning this process sooner rather than later provides peace of mind for both you.
It’s easy to lose sight of yourself when you’re focused on someone with cancer. But your own health is essential to ensuring your loved one gets the care they need. Take care of your own physical and emotional needs. Eat well and get plenty of sleep. And maintain your regular schedule of checkups and screenings.
Research clearly shows that you can receive stress with mind-body exercises such as meditation, yoga, and listening to music. There are many activities that can help you relax mentally and physically including meditation, guided imagery, and healing therapies based in the creative arts. Many caregivers begin to explore these areas and find they provide new sources energy, power and resilience.
It’s normal to want to take care of everything you possibly can. But remember nobody can do everything. Recognize your limits and simply acknowledge there will be times when you feel overwhelmed. Decide what you can do, and what you cannot. It’s a journey and your loved one doesn’t need perfection — they need you. By recognizing your limits, you ensure you will be there for them.