Posts Tagged ‘cancer caregiver’

Caring for the Caregiver: Support for Caregiving Family Members and Friends

Cancer CaregiverCaring for a loved one with cancer is an emotional journey. Caregivers often experience the stress and anxiety of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and because they are not the person undergoing treatment, they may feel reluctant to share the way they are impacted. Wanting all the focus to stay on their loved one’s care, they may not reach out for necessary help.

But with so much on their plates — caregiving, managing a household, paying bills, caring for children and even holding down a full-time job — this juggling act can take a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual toll. That’s why it’s critical that caregivers take time to rest and recharge.

If you are a caregiver of someone living with cancer, remember that the better care you take of yourself, the better you’ll be able to care of your loved one.

1. Share Your Feelings

As a caregiver, you may feel anxious, irritable, scared, frustrated, worried or sad. It may be difficult to share those feelings because you feel the need to “be strong” or don’t want to increase the burden for your loved one going through cancer treatment. You may hide these very real emotions and, as a result, you may struggle more intensely.

Instead of bottling up your emotions, find a safe and welcoming outlet for them, such as another friend, family member, spiritual health clinician, social worker, or a religious provider. It can be extremely helpful to make a positive connection with others so that you can share your feelings honestly and openly in a safe place without fear of judgment — and so you can continue to support your loved one on his or her journey.

2. Ask for Help

It can be difficult to ask for help when a loved one is going through a health crisis like cancer. Even though people are constantly asking how they can help or what they can do, you may feel the impulse to pull inward and ride out the storm alone. It may even feel overwhelming to simply figure out what help can look like.

Challenge yourself to say “yes” to help more often. Take a moment to think about what you can delegate and what would make your life a little easier. That may include help with:

  • Small jobs around the home
  • Pre-made dinners
  • Cleaning the dishes
  • Folding laundry
  • Grocery shopping
  • Picking up kids from school or practice

These are the sorts of tasks that someone could easily jump in to assist with.

3. Assign a Communication Point Person

One of the most challenging aspects of caring for someone else is fielding well-intentioned calls, texts and emails from others interested in updates and how they can help. That alone can take a great deal of time and energy to share news — good and bad — and answer questions.

Instead of taking that burden on yourself, assign one family member or friend to be the communication point person for the entire family. Then, you just need to update one person and they can share the news with everyone else. Work together to establish parameters, such as:

  • Ask the communication point person to assign “jobs” to those who ask how they can help. Share what would be most helpful, and then let your point person coordinate tasks and timing.
  • Set boundaries about when your loved one and you need a break from phone calls and visitors. Communicate those parameters — whether it’s the day of or after treatment, or certain hours in the evening, morning or over the weekend — so that others know what to expect and when you’ll be available.
  • Be clear in communication so your point person has the information he or she needs to answer questions.

4. Take Time for Yourself

It can be hard to take time for yourself when you feel like you need to spend all your time with your loved one. Focusing on yourself can help you rest, recharge, and ultimately be a better support. Here are a few simple ways you can take care of yourself:

• Set aside 5-15 minutes every day just for you. That could be during a morning cup of coffee, good book at night, or a quick walk outside. Write it down, schedule it and communicate your intentions so you stick to it.

As difficult as it may be to step away, it can take an emotional toll on both you and your loved one to be together 24/7. A walk around the hospital or block gives you both a chance for a little alone time and to reconnect with yourself.

• Ask a family or friend to visit with your loved one so you can do something you enjoy. You may feel guilty about getting out of the house while a loved one is sick, but it’ll help improve your own emotional and spiritual health.

Meet a friend for coffee or lunch, browse a bookstore by yourself, or head to a favorite park. Whatever it is, just be sure to set a little time so you can enjoy something you love.

Support is Here

Caregivers are welcome and encouraged to talk with Spiritual Health at Emory Healthcare and the Winship Cancer Institute. They’re here to listen and support patients and their caregivers wherever they may be on their cancer journey. Visit our website if you’d like to talk with someone from our spiritual health team.

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center for Georgia – the highest designation given by the NCI to cancer centers in the nation. Winship offers expertise in cancer research, prevention, detection and treatment with the most advanced therapies. Winship is where you get treatments years before others can. Our expert team coordinates every detail of your visit to meet your individualized treatment plan. Visit or call 1-888-WINSHIP for an appointment.


Caring for the Caregiver

Cancer CaregiverCaring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer is such an important role. Most often it is a spouse, family member or close friend who becomes the primary caregiver for the patient. It’s a big responsibility that can, at times, be overwhelming. Sometimes we forget that caregivers need to be taken care of too.

Here are some tips for caring for the caregiver:

  • Reach out to other friends and family members for assistance. Make a list of duties that need to be completed in order to care for the patient. Ask others to help complete those tasks. This can help alleviate some stress for the caregiver.
  • Sign up for a caregiver support group. This can introduce you to other caregivers who are in a similar situation. It is also a great way to share ideas and tips. Winship Cancer Institute has a Caregiver Support Group that meets on the third Wednesday of each month for caregivers of cancer patients. Caregivers may also be interested in reaching out to other caregivers for some one-on-one support.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest. Seven to eight hours of sleep each night can help you recharge your body and mind and give you more energy.
  • Consider relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga. Journaling is another great way to help process your feelings. This can be helpful in coping with some of the stress related to caregiving.
  • Don’t neglect your own health. Be sure to schedule and keep your own doctor appointments. It is common for caregivers to put all of their focus on the patient’s needs and ignore their own health. If you are a caregiver, you must take good care of yourself; otherwise, your own health concerns may make you unable to continue taking care of the patient.
  • Make time for yourself. It is important that caregivers do things that they enjoy doing, such as spending time with friends, participating in a hobby or exercising.

It’s easy to burn out while caring for a loved one with a serious medical condition. Pace yourself and know that you have don’t have to go it alone.

About Joy McCall, LMSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

Related Resources:

Caregivers of Cancer Patients Need Care Too
Support Groups at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
American Cancer Society

Caregivers of Cancer Patients Need Care Too

Cancer Caregivers SupportFamily members and close friends often take the role of a “caregiver” when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer and begins the cancer treatment process. The caregiver provides physical and emotional care for the cancer patient. Although the caregiver takes this responsibility on in love, they can also easily burn out. The stress and consequences of caregiving can take a toll on both the patient and the caregiver. Some signs that the caregiver might be experiencing caregiver stress or burn out include:

  • Change in weight
  • Change in the amount or pattern of sleep
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Increased anger or frustration
  • Lack of time for their own needs
  • Feeling overwhelmed or trapped
  • Feeling misunderstood or unsupported
  • Missing or delaying their own medical care
  • Stopping routine exercise, socialization or other healthy daily activities
  • Increased alcohol or drug use

It is imperative that caregivers take care of themselves and not feel guilty about doing this. If the caregiver is not healthy, he or she will not be able to effectively care for the patient either. Some suggestions for caregivers to reduce burnout and improve self care:

  • Reduce Personal Stress -Recognize the symptoms of stress, identify the source of stress, identify what you can and cannot change and take action.
  • Set goals – We are more likely to achieve goals if they are broken into small steps. An example – I will walk 15 minutes every day.
  • Seek Solutions – Once you have identified a problem, taking action to solve it can change the situation and also change your attitude and give you more confidence.
  • Communicate Constructively – Use “I” messages instead of “You” messages, respect the rights and feelings of others, be specific and clear, be a good listener.
  • Ask for and Accept Help – Be honest with yourself and ask for and accept help when needed.
  • Talking to you Physician – Ask for medical advice when you don’t understand the needs of the person receiving care but also seek medical support for yourself.
  • Start to exercise – Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness.
  • Learning from your emotions -Emotions are useful tools for understanding what is happening to us. So, pay attention to them.

Caregiving can be a personally fulfilling and rewarding experience. Take care of yourself in order to best care for your loved ones. They will appreciate your love and care and understand your needs as well.

About James Hankins, MSW, LCSW
James is the Director of Patient Support and Social Services at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. James specializes in providing support and counseling services for patients and their caregivers dealing with all types of cancer. He graduated from Michigan State University and received a Masters in Social Work from Wayne State University. James has spent the majority of his 20 years of professional service focusing on mental health issues related to changes in physical health with special emphasis on the challenges facing caregivers.

Related Resources: