You’re new to cancer caregiving, or you’ve been caring for a spouse for some time, there are strategies and tips you can use to become healthier — both for your spouse and yourself.
Caring for a spouse who is undergoing cancer treatment is a demanding job. The demands of regular household chores, looking after children or other family members, and perhaps working a full-time job. All the above, and support person, advocate, healer, and cheerleader for your loved one.
If you don’t take time for yourself, you risk getting overwhelmed and fatigued. In some cases, cancer caregivers become so exhausted they experience caregiver burnout. When this happens, your mental and physical health can suffer. Here are tips for making sure you stay healthy while supporting your spouse through their cancer journey.
It may sound like a cliche, but self-care is essential when you’re a cancer caregiver. Take the necessary time-outs to look after your health, hobbies, and goals. Self-care doesn’t have to be a bubble bath or a day at the spa, although it can be those things if that’s what self-care means to you.
What’s important is that you set aside time to spend quality time on you and only you. Before the airplane takes off, flight attendants always tell passengers traveling with a child or dependent on putting on their oxygen mask first before assisting someone else.
The reason? You can’t adequately take care of another person when you neglect your health and well-being.
Cancer can be a lonely disease. You’re going through it yourself or supporting a spouse undergoing cancer treatment; it feels like you’re the only people in the world struggling with the ups and downs cancer.
However, this is far from the truth. The reality is that more than 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Most of these patients have family members and spouses who are affected by the disease.
While no one wants to join the club of people touched by cancer, there are plenty of others going through an experience similar to yours. You can find a great deal of support and companionship by connecting with people who understand what’s happening in your life.
If you prefer to meet in person, ask your hospital or health care provider if they can recommend a support group in your area. If a busy lifestyle makes it more convenient to connect with others online, check out cancer support resources on your hospital’s website. You can also find groups on Facebook and other social networking sites.
People who excel at caregiving are often selfless individuals who are willing to lend a helping hand whenever it’s needed. Unfortunately, being a caregiver can also cause you to overextend yourself.
When people know you’re open to helping out, they might not realize that you’re spreading yourself too thin. To avoid this situation, don’t be afraid to set firm boundaries with the people in your life. Let loved ones and friends know that your time is limited. Likewise, it’s okay to tell people when you need a break.
Therapists and mental health experts often recommend journaling as a way to get complicated or challenging emotions from your head onto paper. In many cases, cancer caregivers feel a range of challenging emotions.
On the one hand, you love your spouse and would do anything for them. However, caregiving is demanding. It’s normal to feel frustrated, angry, and sad about the way your relationship with your spouse has changed.
Keeping a journal can be a great way to let this range of feelings flow freely without worrying about judgment. With journaling, you don’t have to worry about sharing your most profound emotions as you would typically do when talking to someone about how you feel.
Cancer can be a complicated disease, and treatment options can span a wide range of medications, new technology, and experimental therapy.
After your spouse’s cancer diagnosis, you’re likely to hear a whole host of new medical terms and phrases. Learning as much as you can about your spouse’s diagnosis can be empowering. As a caregiver, you become the advocate, educating yourself about your spouse’s treatment plan can help you push for treatments and interventions.
As a caregiver, you’re a support person. Keep in mind that the patient is your spouse. As such, he or she should ultimately be the one in charge. Being diagnosed with cancer can make a person feel vulnerable and powerless.
Be careful not to make decisions for your spouse. Instead, review options with your loved one, ask their opinion, and don’t hesitate to share yours. Then, make informed decisions together. By working as a team, you can avoid disagreements and hurt feelings.
Everyone gets cranky from time to time, even when we’re at our healthiest. With a spouse’s cancer diagnosis, the grumpy days aren’t going to disappear. As a caregiver, don’t fall into the mindset that you have to be cheery all the time.
On the contrary, it’s perfectly okay to have bad days. There will be times when you both need some space and private time. There will be times when you both need some space and private time.
When a loved one has cancer, life may feel dominated continuously by cancer. However, not everything has to be about cancer. It’s healthy and vital to make time in your life for things that have nothing at all to do with cancer.
If it helps, take cancer breaks. For example, set aside one day each week when you and your spouse don’t mention anything about cancer. Instead, spend the day doing something you love, even if it’s just spending quality time together.
It’s okay to let yourself feel disappointments and setbacks. Just about every cancer patient goes through ups and downs while they’re going through treatment. You can try to ignore the negative moments, but the reality is your brain still knows they’re happening.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge setbacks. Set aside time to feel angry and disappointed. It’s also okay to let yourself feel depressed for a time. However, don’t let yourself fall into a persistent slump. If you feel like your down moments are outweighing the good ones, it’s essential to get professional help.
Caregiver burnout is real, and it can happen to anyone tasked with providing constant care to a loved one who is grappling with an illness.
Furthermore, caregiver burnout can attack on several fronts. The burnout can come in the form of mental exhaustion, and it can also involve physical deterioration. You may also feel emotionally strained to the breaking point.
By knowing the signs of burnout, you can hopefully see it coming and then take steps to alleviate stressors before they develop into full-blown burnout. Here are some of the most commons signs of caregiver burnout:
- Getting sick, such as catching colds or coming down with the flu
- Panic attacks and anxiety
- Mood changes
- Withdrawal from social life
- Feeling irritable and angry all the time
- Resenting your spouse
- Constant fatigue no matter how much sleep you get
If you feel yourself getting burned out, act quickly to give yourself a break. There are many ways to alleviate the stress that comes with caregiving. If your budget allows it, you can hire a home health aide to spend a day or two a week looking after your spouse while you engage in much-needed self-care.
If hiring additional help isn’t an option, ask a friend, relative, or even a trusted neighbor if they’re willing to stay with your spouse or lend assistance with household chores.
While it may be hard to admit you need help, you’ll probably be surprised how willing people are to help. Even having someone pick up your mail, cut your grass, or prepare a meal once a week can make a big difference. In most cases, people are happy to help out when you ask.
It’s normal to feel a whirlwind of emotions when you’re a caregiver to a spouse with cancer. Practice self-care and permit yourself to explore all your emotions. However, you can avoid falling into caregiver burnout.
As you and your spouse weather the challenges of cancer together, you’re likely to discover new strengths that deepen your relationship as a married couple.