CDS caregivers provide a wide range of services in support of the physical and emotional health of cancer patients. These services allow patients to remain in their homes and live with dignity. While cancer caregivers are typically unpaid relatives or friends, Consumer Directed Services (CDS) allows them to be compensated under certain conditions.
If you are currently a cancer caregiver or expect to provide care to someone with cancer in the future, it’s important to understand the specific roles you’ll play in a cancer patient’s life as well as how these responsibilities can affect you. And it’s crucial to consider your own well-being when caring for someone else.
What does the role of a cancer patient caregiver entail?
Caring for someone with cancer can involve a wide variety of duties. Depending on their diagnosis, you may be helping with any, or all, of the following:
· Cooking for, shopping for, and feeding the patient
· Dressing the patient
· Bathing the patient
· Providing companionship
· Arranging their appointment or medication schedules
· Dealing with medical insurance issues
· Communicating with doctors about their care
· Providing transportation
· Cleaning the patient’s home
· Dealing with bills or other home-related issues
· Keeping family members informed of their health
The ups and downs of being a caregiver for a cancer patient
Being there for a person in need is often a rewarding experience that allows you to show your love and affection. Communicating with a care team can even allow you to meet new people or strengthen relationships with the patient’s other family or friends. In the process, you may discover skills and resilience you never knew you had, so caregiving can be an enriching experience.
Of course, even if you are satisfied with your role as caregiver, it can be a sad and lonely job. Watching your loved one cope with a serious illness will surely deplete your emotional resources from time to time. And you might not be able to keep your mind off of the future or the pressure of how your role may relate to their health outcomes.
It may also be the case that you did not ask for this role, or even that your relationship with the patient was strained before you became their caregiver. It’s normal to feel frustrated by these new and important responsibilities. And if you live with the cancer patient, your duties may feel constant and unrelenting. Many people feel unprepared for the variety of tasks expected of them and the seriousness of the situation. You may even have to give up employment, travel, and social opportunities in order to care for your loved one.
Providing care to cancer patients can be physically and emotionally demanding. And because you’re not the one who is sick, it’s easy to feel guilty prioritizing your own needs.
But remember this: If you’re going to be of help to someone else, you have to keep yourself as strong and healthy as possible.
How to take care of yourself as a cancer caregiver
Those who provide home care to cancer patients may not feel like they have the time to take care of themselves, But caregiving can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. Anxiety, depression, and insomnia are all common among caregivers and can even lead to cardiac issues. That’s why it’s important to check in with yourself as often as possible and make sure you’re doing all you can to make your health a priority too.
These are just some of the ways you can cope with your responsibilities as a cancer caregiver:
Know your boundaries
This can be a huge challenge if you’ve fallen into the caregiving role without much of a choice. And if you live with the cancer patient, both emotional and physical boundaries can become a problem.
Give yourself some time to think about what you can do to remedy the situation. Then, be sure to communicate those needs in the most constructive way possible to other family, friends, and caregivers in the patient’s life. If you don’t set boundaries early, you may find it hard to do later when people’s expectations are set (although it’s never too late to admit that you need some help).
Ask for and accept support from family
People often want to help but they don’t know how. But if there are other family members willing to lend a hand, there’s no reason not to take it (even if just occasionally). Allowing other people to step in can give you the break you need to work on your own health and well-being.
Perhaps you can’t walk away from the situation for long, but even allowing someone else to take the patient to an appointment or bring over dinner one evening can take a load off. And letting other family take their turn can help make things feel a bit more fair.
Maintain a healthy diet
It’s so easy to eat on the run or let the diet of the patient dictate your own eating habits. But maintaining a healthy diet, especially when you’re under stress, is crucial to your mental and physical health.
People who are stressed often reach for easy snacks and non-nutritious food to save time or cope with their feelings. This may feel good in the moment (and you shouldn’t deny yourself a treat), but a poor diet won’t help keep you healthy or happy.
Not everyone enjoys exercise, but everyone needs it. Just like a healthy diet, it helps keep your mind and body in good shape so you can live your life and help care for the cancer patient.
Exercise doesn’t need to be rigorous or feel forced. Going for a walk or taking a bike ride are great forms of exercise. If you are feeling lonely, taking a yoga or other fitness class can help you get into the habit of moving your body – and it can even help you meet new people. But if a trip to the studio or gym isn’t in the cards, there are plenty of resources available online for people of all skill levels – and many of them are free.
Seek spiritual support
When you’re caring for someone with cancer, life can feel unfair. It can cause you to question your beliefs or take you away from the spiritual community you once had access to before you took on your new responsibilities.
Regardless of your belief system, there are spiritual resources in nearly every community as well as online, from live-streamed sermons to meditation guides.
Schedule social time
It’s hard to get out of the house if you’re providing someone with constant care, but it’s not healthy to isolate yourself. If you’re going through a difficult time, you need supportive people around you.
If scheduling family time isn’t a possibility, it may be worth asking someone you know to come sit with the cancer patient for a few hours while you catch up with old friends.
Consider getting mental health support from a professional
All caregivers are strong people – otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do the job. But there are elements of caregiving that are bound to deplete your resources. Feeling overwhelmed, neglecting your physical health, isolating yourself, and dealing with feelings of sorrow, guilt, and worry are common.
Mental health issues are not a matter of personal strength, they’re physiological issues that are caused by a number of internal and external stressors. Sometimes they can be dealt with by talking to a licensed therapist and other times you might need medical intervention. It takes strength to realize this and accept that the caregiving role you’ve taken on might affect you in ways you didn’t expect. It’s important to seek this kind of help if you feel like you might need it.
Ask others to help
People often say “let me know if there’s anything I can do.” And it’s an easy statement to blow off. But as a cancer caregiver, there’s no need to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders if there are people willing and available to offer some sort of assistance.
Even if you feel like the offers are less-than-genuine, it doesn’t hurt to have a list of things in mind that you’d like help with
Find a local support group
Hospitals, community centers, and churches often have support groups for caregivers. And one great thing about the 21st century is that you can even find support online if you don’t have access to local resources.
You may not necessarily want to share your own story right off the bat or feel like privacy issues prevent you from doing so, but there’s no reason you can’t sit in on a support group and learn some tips and tricks from other people who have been through the same thing.
Click here to find support groups in your state.
Write in a journal
Most people don’t fancy themselves writers, but the great thing about journaling is that no one else is going to read it. It’s a place to vent and to work out your feelings without anyone’s judgement.
In fact, journaling has been found to reduce negative rumination and anxiety and even help with physical healing. It’s also a great way to unbury feelings that you didn’t even know you had.
Remember to look at the positives
There are some days when everything will seem bad. Being a cancer caregiver is rewarding-but-sad by nature. You’re likely caring for a loved one who is suffering – and you may also be suffering. But forcing yourself to sit and think of the small positives on any given day can have a beneficial effect on your health.
Even if the only good thing that happens is that you and the cancer patient have been given one more day to wake up on this Earth, that’s worth being thankful for. The positives can be big or small, but learning to find them can help you see the world in a whole new way.