When we find out a loved one has cancer, most of us spring into action doing all the things we possibly canÃ¢â‚¬”if only to distract ourselves from all the things we canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. But while youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re busy worrying about your loved oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s health, you may end up neglecting your own.
The stress of caring for a loved one with cancer can take a serious toll on your mental health, according to a 2012 review in the journal Seminars in Oncology Nursing. Female caregivers reported the highest stress levels, which researchers attribute to women spending more time caregiving, being more worried about other day-to-day responsibilities, and perceiving less support from others. And the research shows that supporters who let their stress go untreated are more likely to suffer depression, changes in their immune system, and an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Here, everything you need to know to care for your loved oneÃ¢â‚¬”and yourselfÃ¢â‚¬”after the diagnosis.
Know When to Take a Break
Caregivers may feel like they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t or shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take time for themselves, says Heather Patrick, Ph.D., Program Director of the National Cancer Institute, Health Behaviors Research Branch. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s impossible to be a good source of support if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re physically or emotionally drained. If you experience symptoms like a change in appetite, loss of sleep, or feeling overly sad or angry about things that didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bother you before, Patrick suggests giving yourself thirty minutes a day to focus on your own needs.
Take a walk, talk with another friend or family member, or do something that that will help you feel refreshedÃ¢â‚¬”even if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just hitting the gym or binge watching whateverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on your DVR. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You need to give yourself a break from talking about cancer,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Patrick. If taking regular breaks doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have an effect on your symptoms, reach out to your primary care doctor. They may be able to point you to a support group or therapist that can help.
Find Your Own Support System
As helpful as your friends and family may be, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s crucial to have someone who has been through this experience before, says Patrick. Resources like The Caregiver Action Network can helpÃ¢â‚¬”whether youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking for information or just a volunteer to vent to. The group is made up of over 100 caregivers, nurses, and social workers who are available to talk over the phone or in person. You can also post a question on the networkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Family Caregiver Forum, which is a great option when your schedule is packed, says John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network. Another great resource is the Susan G. Komen co-survivor message board. In addition to connecting you with supporters, you can also speak with other breast cancer patients about their experiences.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Caregivers donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t usually get the information they need to be high quality advocates,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Laurel Northouse, Ph.D., co-author of the 2012 review. In fact, half of caregivers reported that they didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the training needed to effectively care for their loved ones, according to a study in Psychooncology. One great resource is Help for Cancer Caregivers, which creates a personalized profile based on your loved oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease and your major stressors. It helps you track your stress levels each week and provides helpful resources and information tailored to your needs. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not everybody needs every resource,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Schall. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But this website makes it so you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to dig to find information that suits your situation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
While youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re at it, bookmark the National Cancer Institute (Cancer.gov), says Patrick. Keeping track of the latest research, clinical trials, and treatment options will make you a stronger advocate for your loved one. Ã¢â‚¬Å“None of us is born knowing how to give care,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Schall. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The more you educate yourself the more youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be able to help your loved one and reduce your stress.Ã¢â‚¬Â