Cancer Caregivers Must Find Their Outlets

Being a caregiver to anyone is exhausting.

Being a caregiver to a terminally ill cancer patient can consume you. And make you sick with worry and physical illness. Many people along the way will lecture you on taking care of yourself. This may be annoying. But they are right.

Don't let go of your outlet

Hopefully, before you became a caregiver, you had certain ways of decompressing. For me, it was yoga. And exercise in general. For you it might be walking the dog or going out for coffee with a friend. Or listening to music and dancing. Or playing with your pets. Or maybe it is an art such as painting or writing. (Writing became an outlet for me in the trenches of caregiving).

Whatever your outlet has been, lean on it and lean heavily. And if you haven’t had an outlet, now is the time to get one.

Aside from an outlet, at a minimum: get enough sleep (7-8 hours a night is typically ideal); eat nutritious foods as often as you can. This could be a simple smoothie at home. Choose a piece of fruit instead of candy for a snack or dessert. And get some exercise every day. If you haven’t been in the habit of exercising, do something simple like going for a walk to clear your head.

It's not always possible

I know these actions sound easy but they aren’t always possible. If the patient is in pain all night, it may be difficult for you to get enough sleep. This is when you must try to seek solutions. Are there relatives who could take a “night shift”? Could you afford to hire someone some nights to stay up? Are there times during the day when the patient sleeps and you could nap, too?

If you are having trouble coping with the situation, seek counseling. There are many trained oncology social workers. Some may be available to you via the cancer center providing treatment. Some nonprofits offer such services to those living with cancer. You may have to dig in and research it (or outsource that research to someone who wants to help you). But it is worth the effort.

Ask friends to help you with the research

There are numerous resources available to cancer patients and their caregivers. The problem is there are so many that it becomes a full-time job to research the ones most helpful to you. (In addition to researching treatment options, going to medical appointments, helping the patients, and maintaining your job or work at home.) But there are resources. I didn’t seek them out enough and I realize I could have asked friends to help me research them. There are programs that offer transportation assistance, there are subsidies for medicines, there are emotional support programs.

Caregiving, especially when it comes upon you suddenly and immediately turns your life upside down, can be brutal. I have heard many stories of seriously ill patients who outlive their caregivers because the caregiver didn’t take care of him or herself.

As the airlines remind us, put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. What is your oxygen?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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