Tips for Caregivers
Links for Caregivers
"I think anytime anyone in your family is faced with a difficult situation…you just have to remember you're a team and you have to work together. There's going to be good days and bad days, but you just have to always be there for that other person."
- - Kristin Armstrong

Tips for Families of Cancer Patients

A cancer diagnosis is devastating news for the survivor's family, friends and loved ones. More often than not, these are the individuals who become caregivers following a cancer diagnosis and during treatment.

As a caregiver and member of the support team, your job is not easy. Not only do you supervise or help with your loved one's physical needs, you also may be responsible for paying bills, dealing with insurance issues, and helping make medical decisions. Never mind your own regular responsibilities like family and work, and the roller coaster that hurtles you through the emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis.

I know how important a support team is for a cancer patient. I truly believe that I never would have recovered from cancer without the love and encouragement from my support team. Like the lead support rider, my mother was the backbone, always present, taking charge of my needs, and allowing her infectious optimism and energy to envelope me. Kristin, my girlfriend at the time who has since become my wife and mother of our three children, Luke, Grace and Isabelle, became the most important member of my support team and has stood by me through every step of my recovery as a cancer survivor. My friends and colleagues were invaluable in their support and good cheer, making each day a little sunnier and each milestone toward recovery a little more meaningful.

Caregivers are the people who make their loved one's illness their mission, and who work tirelessly to meet the difficult challenges that cancer brings. The information on this page is designed to help caregivers like you understand that you are valued members of the healing process. As such, your fitness, both physical and emotional, is necessary to keep the journey on track.

Here are some tips that will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed and overburdened:

Educate yourself.
Understanding your loved one's illness and treatment can lessen your fears and prepare you to make important decisions. You can learn about the illness by researching on-line or at your local library, asking health care providers, contacting national organizations, or talking to others who have been through a similar experience.

Assemble a caregiving team.
The care of a cancer survivor is an awesome responsibility and no one should be expected to handle it alone. You can manage the tasks that need to be done by enlisting the help of family members, friends, and neighbors. Divide chores into categories (i.e., personal care, transportation, errands, help around the house, personal affairs) and delegate them to others you trust.

Establish your caregiver role with health professionals.
It is important for the health care professionals to know that you are the point person when it comes to your loved one's care. Opening the lines of communication will improve the flow of information and reduce confusion.

Develop a crisis management plan.
You never know when an emergency may arise, and the worst time to try to recall important information is when you are anxious and upset. Prepare for a crisis by creating an emergency phone list of numbers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, family members, neighbors and friends. Also include information about your loved one's insurance, social security, and living will/power of attorney.

Tap into community resources.
Many communities have organizations that assist caregivers with transportation, meals and nutrition, cleaning services, childcare, respite care, and legal advice. Find out what's available through your county health department, local newspaper, library, church or synagogue. Take advantage of the resources available to you.

Join a support group.
It is important to remember that you are never alone. With over 25 million Americans working today as caregivers (National Family Caregivers Association. Take Care! Spring 1999.), chances are there are others in your community who have walked in your shoes. Participating in a support group is a way to meet others in a similar situation and hear their experiences. Find out about support groups near you by checking with your doctor, hospital, county health department, national association or library.

Take care of yourself.
When we are caring for others and under constant stress, we often neglect ourselves. Poor eating habits, lack of sleep, and heavy lifting often take their toll on our own physical well-being. Take care to eat nutritiously, drink plenty of fluids, exercise, sleep, and pace yourself. If you are going to stay in this race for the long haul, you need to stay healthy.

Mind your emotions.
You have taken on a very stressful job that can play havoc with your emotions. In order to go the distance emotionally, you need to set realistic goals for yourself; stay connected to your regular life with hobbies, exercise and friends; talk about your anger, frustrations and resentments; allow yourself to grieve; seek comfort in spirituality or the warmth of friends and family; and maintain a sense of humor.

Watch out for depression.
Your job, at times, can seem overwhelming. Depression is a common side effect of caregiving and it deserves your attention. The National Mental Health Association urges people to learn to recognize the signs of depression: constant sadness, anxiety or emptiness; sleeping too little or too much; reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite or weight gain; loss of interest in activities; restlessness or irritability; fatigue; or overwhelming feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness. (National Mental Health Association). If you think you are suffering from depression, seek professional help.

Give yourself the credit you deserve.
You are giving your loved one the greatest gift possible: yourself. Whether your loved one and others acknowledge this gift doesn't matter. You know the sacrifices you are making and the energy you are using to do what is right in your heart. You deserve to feel good about your choice to help and should be congratulated on your selflessness and generosity.