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Caring for the Caregiver

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During cancer treatment, the main focus is on the patient. However, a cancer diagnosis affects the entire family, including caregivers. A caregiver is any person who supports a patient during treatment; this can be a spouse, partner, sibling, son, daughter, or friend. Taking on the role of a caregiver can change the dynamic in a relationship.

Partners who were once equals can now have an imbalance and a child can often need to take on a parental role. Often the caregiver’s needs can be overlooked. It is important for the caregiver to keep their body and mind healthy in order to provide the best care to the patient. While this seems easier to say than do, working in some self-care does not have to take a lot of time or money.

Ways to put yourself first:

Let go of guilt. It is natural to feel guilty for taking time for yourself when your loved one needs so much. Try to remember why all airlines instruct passengers to put their own oxygen mask on first before helping others. The reason behind this is simple: You cannot care for someone else when you are depleted. It is important to acknowledge guilty feelings and find a safe place to share them, but do not allow them to stop you from caring for yourself.

Build in fun. Create a list of activities that make you happy. Playing your favorite song, taking a bubble bath, or going for a walk are just some of the possibilities.

Relax. Simple breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation, and proper sleep habits. There’s even an app for that! You can download apps like Headspace and Calm to help guide you in relaxation practice.

Self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack! When you care for yourself and a loved one, it is normal to experience stress. Recognizing this stress in a non-judgmental way and taking small steps to combat it is the first step in self-care.

Your oncology social worker is there to help patients and caregivers, and we can help you make a personalized plan to cope with the challenges of being a caregiver.

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Lauren Kriegel, MSW, LSW and Autumn Banta, MSW, LSW are oncology social workers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

          
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