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Caregiver Suggests Continuing Interests

CancerWise - January 2008

By Asma Siddiqi

Roger McWaters and wife Pat

Roger McWaters has been a caregiver for four years, and, although he has been very busy since his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, he has yet to burn out from his duties.

He recommends that other caregivers do what has helped him when they feel able: attempt to maintain the same quality of life they had before becoming caregivers.

“I continue to play golf and tennis and read as much as I can,” McWaters says. “It’s good to have other activities in your life.

"If you like to shop, then go to the mall, or if you like to work out, it’s good to go to a health club and get exercise for an hour or two. You can also go to the movies. These activities will re-energize you and motivate you to keep going. Keep doing what you like to do and what helps you feel good about yourself. And encourage your care partner to do the same.”

Becoming a caregiver

Of course, in the beginning, finding time for himself wasn't his first priority.

McWaters' wife, Pat, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer after visiting the doctor for what she thought was an inflamed liver. It turned out to be breast cancer that had spread to her liver and spine.

Before any treatment could start, there were a number of informational classes to attend and appointments to schedule. It was one of the busiest times for the couple. There were new words like “chemotherapy” and “central venus catheter” to learn and tests to undergo.

The hardest part about the beginning was the anxiety, McWaters says. “We couldn’t get the therapy started fast enough.”

Lessons from a caregiver

Throughout the years that have followed, McWaters has relied on his values to pull him and Pat through the rough patches. She is lucky to continue therapy as an outpatient, and it is their strong faith and sense of hope that keep them going.

The couple has not viewed the cancer as an end to their plans. They have seen it only as a setback and have continued with their lives.

More tips to prevent burnout

As the caregiver of an inpatient, it may be harder to leave your loved one for long, so finding activities while in the hospital is important, too.

McWaters has found it refreshing to read a book while sitting with his wife at
M. D. Anderson. It’s a good way to be close to your care partner and spend time on yourself, he says.

Other M. D. Anderson caregivers share that arts and crafts also are great activities, says Marisa Mir, a program coordinator for M. D. Anderson’s patient and caregiver support organization, Anderson Network.

It allows caregivers to express themselves, and it can become an outlet when there is a lot of stress, she says.

Many caregivers show interest in simple activities such as forming a group to take walks around the hospital.

When caregivers are going through an especially rough time, it also can be helpful to talk to a spiritual advisor.

The most popular activity that caregivers say helps them is receiving massages. "It's the healing touch that appeals to everyone," Mir says. "It's very relaxing to be pampered."

The bottom line

Mir advises caregivers not to neglect themselves. Many feel guilty about leaving their care partner, even if it’s for a short while.

McWaters also advises caregivers not to overburden themselves with responsibilities.

“Don’t make your care partner 100% dependent on you,” he says. “It isn’t healthy for you or your loved one. Keep socializing, make travel plans and continue your life as normally as possible. A positive attitude will lessen your stress.”

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© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center