Posts Tagged ‘cancer caregivers’

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

Anticipatory Grief: Mourning for Your Loved One with a Terminal Diagnosis

Anna’s husband was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctors have arranged for him to start palliative chemotherapy and expect that he will live another year. Anna is grateful for the time she has left with her husband but often finds herself thinking about a life without her beloved spouse. She feels guilty for thinking about his funeral while he is still alive, but she can’t help wondering what it will be like. Will she cry or will she be relieved he is no longer in pain? Anna questions how she can plan for the future while she is in a constant state of emergency…

The cancer journey can be an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. Patients and caregivers, like Anna, are forced to deal with a variety of emotions beginning with the diagnosis, continuing through treatment and finally to remission or death. If death is in the foreseeable future, loved ones can experience anticipatory grief.

What is anticipatory grief?

Anticipatory Grief Cancer CaregiversAnticipatory grief is a form of mourning that occurs in anticipation of death. Anticipatory grief is often experienced once patients or their loved ones acknowledge the terminal nature of an illness. This form of grief is most frequently experienced by a caregiver but can also affect the dying individual.

It is important to not mistake anticipatory grief as a lack of faith or a negative attitude. Instead, it should be viewed as a natural human reaction. Anticipatory grief allows individuals time to absorb the reality of loss and address unfinished business such as saying “I love you,” or “I forgive you.”

Anticipatory grief affects the emotional, physical and spiritual being, but does not decrease the amount of grief felt after a death. It is important to remember that all individuals and families experience illness, grief and death in their own unique way.

Symptoms of Anticipatory Grief

According to The National Cancer Institute, the following aspects of anticipatory grief have been identified amongst survivors:

  • Depression
  • Heightened concern for the dying person
  • Rehearsal of the death
  • Attempts to adjust to the consequences of the death

Self Care for the Caregiver

It is crucial for caregivers and loved ones to participate in self care while experiencing anticipatory grief. Below are some specific things that you can do to care for yourself:

  • Talk with a professional, such as a social worker or clergy member, about your fears and emotions.
  • Attend the Caregiver Support Group at Winship.
  • Find little ways to care for yourself throughout the day like going for regular walks, getting plenty of rest and journaling.
  • It’s ok to take a break from cancer and from sadness. Give yourself permission to laugh with friends or see a funny movie.
  • Acknowledge that it is normal to experience a range of emotions during this process such as anger, confusion, sorrow and relief.

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University offers supportive services to caregivers and patients throughout every stage of the cancer journey. Caregivers like Anna do not have to walk this path alone. The Supportive Oncology Team at Winship focuses on improving the quality of life for patients and families affected by cancer. Call 404-778-1900 to schedule an appointment with a member of the Supportive Oncology team.

About Maggie Hughes, LMSW
Maggie Hughes, LMSW, is a medical oncology social worker at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Maggie assists patients at Winship by providing them with supportive counseling and practical resources. She facilitates the Pancreatic Cancer Support Group and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Support Group at Winship. Maggie works with the genitourinary, gastro intestinal, breast, gynecological and sarcoma cancer populations. She has a passion for working with grieving families and is currently working on her certification in Thanatology through The Association for Death Education and Counseling. Maggie received her Master’s Degree in Social Work and Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy from The University of Georgia. While a graduate student, Maggie received the Heather Christina Wright Scholarship for Social Workers in Oncology. Maggie has worked in the geriatric hospital setting and in the school system as a social worker.

Related Resources:

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University offers The Purdom Chapel as a quiet place for reflection, prayer and meditation. The Purdom Chapel is located on the first floor at Winship and is open during regular clinic hours. Chaplains are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

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.

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