New Brunswick, N.J., November 1, 2022 – For caregivers providing emotional and physical care for cancer patients, can be a positive, rewarding experience that brings people closer together. On the other hand, caring for someone in need also brings forth various challenges that can contribute to mental health concerns. Joyce Plaza, BSN, RN, OCN, nurse clinician in the palliative care and symptom management group at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s leading cancer program and only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, together with RWJBarnabas Health, shares tips for cancer caregivers.
1. Learn as much as you can
Knowledge is power, information is liberating. When your loved one is diagnosed with cancer, a lot of information will be given to you. There is no way to grasp the ups and downs of cancer diagnosis and its treatment – and you should not be expected to know everything. Learning as much as you can will help you feel more in control of the situation and less stressed. Take time to read about your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment options. We encourage you to talk openly to your cancer care team, including nurses and doctors, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
2. Let yourself grieve
It's normal to feel a wide range of emotions when caring for someone with cancer. At times you might resent your role or feel frustrated. Give yourself permission to experience your own emotions. When you deal with your own feelings, you are able to be a better caregiver for your loved one. Talking about your feelings with a therapist or social worker may also be beneficial.
3. Be mindful of your own health
In order to be physically and emotionally strong for your loved one, you need to take care of yourself. It’s easy to lose sight of your own health when you’re focused on your loved one. Be sure to eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep, tend to any physical ailments of your own that arise, and get regular check-ups with your doctor and screenings.
4. Make time for emotional self-care
You are human. Give yourself permission to experience your own emotions. Your emotional and mental well-being are also vitally important to the person in your care. Some strategies for caregiver stress include practicing deep breathing or yoga, meditation, listening to music or taking a walk. Self-care might also mean making time for fun. Plan something fun to do with your loved one to get your mind off treatment. See a show, have dinner at a favorite restaurant or engage in a hobby
5. Ask for help
It's okay to ask for help. None of us can do it all. Find your own support system and allow your family and friends to help take on caregiver responsibilities when you are feeling overwhelmed. Make a list of things other people can help with such as running errands, assist in childcare, cleaning, providing rides, or preparing meals.
Attend a support group where you can learn tips and ideas from other caregivers. Seeking support can make the cancer treatment process much more manageable.
For information on support services for cancer patients and caregivers, visit our Patient Support Services program page. For additional resources, visit our Caregiving Resource Center.
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