Taking care of a cancer patient is one of the hardest jobs anyone can do. You’re asked to manage medications, set up and get your loved one to appointments, communicate with the health care team, make meals, be the patient’s main emotional support…The list goes on and on.
That leaves very little time for you.
It’s important to make time, though. Even though your loved one is sick, your well-being still matters. Pushing yourself too hard can actually make caregiving harder. If you break down, your work as a caregiver will suffer.
Here are some tips for taking care of yourself as a caregiver:
Eat right and exercise. This is basic. Maintaining a healthy diet will give you the energy you need and help keep you from getting sick. Exercise will keep your body strong and relieve stress.
Set up a support network. Friends and family want to help, but they may not know how. Tell them what you need. Use the web to coordinate support. Sites like Lotsa Helping Hands and CaringBridge have calendars that let friends sign up to bring you meals, pick up kids or dry cleaning, etc.
These sites will also let you post updates on your loved one’s condition. You can use these to let friends and family know what’s happening without making multiple phone calls or sending out dozens of emails.
Go to a support group. MD Anderson has many resources for caregivers, including several support groups that allow you to discuss your experiences with other people who are dealing with the same problems. If you try one that doesn’t feel like a good fit, try another one.
Speak with a counselor. Your insurance plan may cover the cost of seeing a therapist. MD Anderson social workers also provide counseling services to caregivers at no cost.
Talk to someone who’s been there. Many caregivers want to speak with someone who’s dealt with the same problems. MD Anderson’s myCancerConnection program matches current caregivers with past caregivers who can give insight, advice and encouragement.
As a cancer caregiver, you’ve probably been told it’s important to take care of your own physical and mental health, too. But sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re here at MD Anderson focusing on your loved one.
That’s why we’ve made a list of ways that you can look after your own health while you’re here at MD Anderson, whether you’re waiting on appointments or visiting a loved one.
Walk the skybridge
It can be hard to find time to exercise when you’re caring for others. But exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and lowering your cancer risk. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week to lower your cancer risk.
Fortunately, you can get plenty of exercise by walking outside MD Anderson, weather permitting, or across our nearly quarter-mile-long skybridge. Walking can also improve your mental outlook, help alleviate depression and improve your self-esteem.
Relax in our gardens
Interacting with nature can help raise people’s spirits and put them at ease. That’s why MD Anderson has six different parks, gardens or green spaces that are specially designed to promote healing. Try taking time to admire the beauty of the Tom Jean Moore Rose Garden or listen to the peaceful sounds of the Dorothy Hudson Garden and LeRoy Melcher Jr. Memorial Fountain. Outside of Mays Clinic, you can also walk through The Prairie and see grasses native to Texas or stop to smell the herbs growing in our Healthy Living Garden.
Take a class
We know that caring for others can cause stress and anxiety that can take its toll on your health. That’s why our Integrative Medicine Center offers yoga, Tai Chi, meditation and even healthy cooking classes for our patients and their caregivers. The center offers therapies that can reduce stress, an important part of your lowering your cancer risk. To learn more about the Integrative Medicine Center, talk to your loved one’s MD Anderson doctor, call 1-877-684-5568, or just stop by. It’s located east of The Aquarium entrance in the Main Building, Room R1.2000.
Visit The Learning Center
Sometimes sorting through health information – whether it’s for you or your loved one – can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know who or what websites you can trust. Our Learning Center staff can help. Not only can they help you find the best books and other resources on cancer topics, ranging from different diseases to nutrition and stress management; they’ve also created a list of recommended resources.
Stop into one of our three The Learning Center locations:
Theodore N. Law Learning Center
Main Building, Floor 4, near Elevator A, R4.1100
Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Levit Family Learning Center
Mays Clinic, Floor 2, near The Tree Sculpture, ACB2.1120
Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Holden Foundation Learning Center
Jesse H. Jones Rotary House, Floor 1, RH1.103
Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun., 1:30-8:30 p.m.
Get your cancer screening exams
When you’re caring for a loved one, you may be more likely to put off routine checkups and doctor’s appointments for yourself. The good news is you don’t have to leave MD Anderson to get the cancer screening exams you need. These are medical tests done when you’re healthy, with no signs of illness. They help find cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat.
You may need certain screenings based on your age or other health factors. You can take advantage of these screening services at our Cancer Prevention Center:
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Skin cancer
- Lung cancer (for those at increased risk)
You can request an appointment at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center by calling 1-877-632-6789. You don’t need a doctor’s referral to make an appointment.
Don’t put off your own health
It may seem hard to find time to take care of your own health, but remember: caring for yourself can help you better care for your loved ones. So next time you’re at MD Anderson, be sure to work some self-care into your visit. After all, we consider caregivers to be cancer survivors, too.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
My dad has been a patient at MD Anderson since July 2015, receiving treatment for stage IV renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. Our family has taken turns accompanying him to many doctor appointments, scans and a few in-patient hospital stays. Along the way, we’ve discovered some special places at MD Anderson – a place to decompress, a place to be with nature, a place to socialize and even a place off the beaten path.
As my dad approaches his third year of treatment, I find myself visiting these places often and even discovering new ones. Caregiving is a special gift that has to be nourished, and MD Anderson offers many wonderful places to re-charge.
Below are a few that I recommend.
Location: Main Building, Floor 24, near Elevator F
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
When Dad has scans scheduled, instead of waiting in the general waiting area, I grab a cup of coffee at one of the cafes and head over to the Observation Deck. Being a native Houstonian, I still find myself appreciating the vast expanse of Houston and the magnitude of the size of the Texas Medical Center from 24 floors in the sky. The space is generally very quiet and allows time for my brain refresh itself after the hustle and bustle of getting to and from appointments.
The Learning Center
Locations: Main Building, Floor 4, near Elevator A; Mays Clinic, Floor 2, near The Tree Sculpture; Jesse H. Jones Rotary House, Floor 1
My sister has two young girls. The oldest is 6 years old, and we worried about how much and what to tell her about Dad. My sister was able to find an age-appropriate book to read with her daughter about Dad’s cancer. The Learning Center allowed us to leave some of our fear at the door by replacing the fear with information. And the staff was great at recommending the right book.
myCancerConnection Hospitality Center
Locations: Main Building, Floor 2; Mays Clinic, Floor 2, near
Hours: 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday-Friday
On days when I need a boost of energy or just a warm smile, I head over to the myCancerConnection Hospitality Center. The volunteers are always gracious and offer a smile that lights up the room. Coffee is available, and if you feel your sweet tooth aching, there are usually cookies. This is where I also find out about many of the events happening around MD Anderson.
Off the beaten path: Holistic Garden
Location: UT School of Public Health, Michael & Susan Dell
Center for Healthy Living Holistic Garden
Hours: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday-Friday
When Dad and I walk across the skybridge from the Main building to Mays Clinic, we often wonder about the vegetable garden down below. Earlier this year, while Dad was receiving treatment and required a two-day in-patient hospital stay, I decided to stray off the beaten path and discovered the Holistic Garden at the UT School of Public Health. It is quite a gem and a great place to learn about the benefits of gardening.
Caregiving is a silent gift that doesn’t come up often in discussion during appointments. However, as a caregiver, I’ve found it’s important to take care of yourself so you can provide support as it’s needed. Sometimes that means it’s OK to not wait in the waiting area. Sometimes it’s OK to take a walk and discover something new at MD Anderson. And it’s even OK to veer off the beaten path.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789