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.
Work, family, chores, exercise. It’s enough to make anyone reach for that second, third or fourth cup of coffee. You want to stay alert to meet life’s daily demands, but did you know keeping your energy up is good for your health too?
If you’re feeling drained or sleepy, you may be inclined to skip your daily workout. And being physically active has been shown to reduce cancer risk. In addition, being active can help you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese has been shown to increase your risk of several cancers.
On top of all that, exercise can lower your stress level, another factor in cancer risk reduction.
There are ways to get more energy during your day that don’t require caffeine. We spoke with Carmen Escalante, M.D., professor of Internal Medicine and clinician at The Cancer-Related Fatigue Clinic, about how to get more energy during your day.
Get more sleep.
“This may seem obvious, but many people don’t get enough sleep,” Escalante says.
If you struggle with getting a good night’s rest, try setting a consistent sleep schedule and setting up a consistent bed time routine to help you get more sleep.
Eat a healthy diet.
Eating a healthy diet is one way to maintain energy.
“Stay away from sugar and junk food,” Escalante says. “Eating more complex carbohydrates and more protein may be helpful in sustaining you throughout the day.”
If you’re looking for a mid-day snack to help give you an energy boost, Escalante recommends opting for a handful of nuts before reaching for that candy bar.
The sugar may give you a burst of energy, but it won’t last very long. Making a healthy diet a part of your life style will help give you the energy you need to get through your busiest days.
It seems counterintuitive, but exercising regularly can give you energy. Escalante says researchers aren’t sure why exercise gives you energy, but studies do show a correlation between the two. But don’t expect immediate results, she says.
“You can’t just exercise one day and expect to see a change,” she says. “You have to be consistent.”
To get the most out of your exercise and lower your cancer risk, you should aim for two-and-a-half hours of moderate physical activity each week or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise.
Balance your workload
If your work is leaving you tired and drained of energy, balancing your workload can help. Escalante recommends taking short breaks during the work day, if your job allows.
“Take a 10-minute walk around the building,” she says. “It helps you relax a little and clear your head, so you can come back refreshed and ready to focus.”
Dehydration slows the flow of oxygen to your organs, which can drain you of your energy. So make sure to drink water during the day. And make sure it is water, too, Escalante says. Soda may seem tempting, but both regular and diet sodas can lead to midday slumps, just like those sugary snacks.
Follow these steps and you’ll start to feel more energy during your day.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 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 accompaying 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.