National Family Caregivers Month is here, and I want to start by thanking all of the caregivers reading this for your help in Making Cancer History. Without the numerous hours of care and support you give your loved ones -- our patients -- it would be much more difficult for MD Anderson to provide the quality of care that we do.
Caregivers of cancer patients may face several challenges while caring for a loved one.
Emotional distress and learning to cope with the patient's cancer is the most commonly identified stressor for caregivers. Not only are the actual tasks of providing care taxing, but having to see the person you truly care for suffer can make caregiving even more challenging.
Helpful strategies for the caregiver
While your job can be difficult, caregivers may find the following strategies helpful throughout their loved one's cancer experience.
1. Educate yourself. Learn about the cancer and the treatment, methods to reduce side effects, ways to help the patient cope emotionally and resources to support both you and your loved one.
Just make sure the information you are reading is accurate, reputable and realistic. In the age of the internet, anyone can put information online. However, just because it's online doesn't mean it's necessarily true.
A great place to start looking online is MD Anderson's own website, including The Learning Center. There you will find patient and caregiver education materials, as well as books, videos and other websites that have been screened to provide you with the best and most accurate information. Then look at both the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute.
2. Get organized. The medical-related tasks, appointments and medications -- not to mention all the other nonmedical duties that are shifted to caregivers -- can sometimes seem never-ending. The American Cancer Society offers a Personal Health Manager Kit to help patients and caregivers keep track of all the medical information.
3. Mobilize your support system. An active support system can sometimes be the most helpful part of a caregiver's life. Engage with the people around you and take them up on offers to help.
Many individuals say that they would help if they only knew how. So, be specific with any needs you might have.
Some in your support system prefer to just sit and listen to worries and concerns, and some may be more comfortable performing more concrete tasks. The important thing here is letting everyone know what type of help you need.
4. Care for yourself. It's important for caregivers to take breaks to refuel and relax. Time away from the caregiving role can offer an emotional and physical break.
Sometimes caregivers feel guilty when taking time to care for themselves and not being with the patient. When these thoughts start, remind yourself that taking time to rest today can actually help you be a better caregiver tomorrow.
Caring for someone is not easy. It's perfectly okay to feel exhausted and crave time away from these tough responsibilities. Caring for yourself helps avoid caregiver burnout and reaching that point where you can no longer care at all. Mobilizing your support system is key to allowing you to take time for yourself.
5. Seek additional support if needed. You may want to consider joining a local support group or speaking with a Social Work Counselor.
This can provide you with an opportunity to connect with others going through the same experience as you. MyCancerConnection provides a phone matching program that can connect you one-on-one with a caregiver who has experienced a similar situation as yourself. Finally, MD Anderson's licensed Social Work Counselors offer individual, couple and family counseling. These individuals can also help caregivers manage issues, such as emotional worries and financial resources.
If you are caregiver, visit the Caregiver Week website to find out about activities going on around MD Anderson this week. If you want to speak with someone about your caregiver concerns, contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or ask your nurse or doctor to speak with a social work counselor.