Caring for yourself

You need not shoulder the burden on your own, Parkway Cancer Centre’s Dr Teo Cheng Peng tells caregivers.

If you have just become a caregiver, you have landed a challenging role. As someone taking care of your husband, wife, partner, parent or child, you have become a vital part of the cancer care team for your loved one. This team includes doctors, medical staff, extended family and close friends.

With no prior training, you are expected to dive right into the role. You may find yourself working closely with the cancer care team, doing things like giving medication to the patient, managing the side effects, reporting any problems, updating family and friends on the patient’s well-being, and even helping to decide whether the patient’s treatment is working or not.

A reliable caregiver is crucial to the physical and emotional well-being of a cancer patient. Advancements in modern medicine have radically improved therapies to treat all types of cancer, but healing for a patient lies in how well he or she is cared for. A caregiver has a huge influence on how a patient deals with cancer. You are your loved one’s lifeline, and your encouragement can make the difference in getting him or her to stick to the treatment schedule, to eat healthy meals, and to get enough rest.

But while your loved one with cancer is a priority, it is extremely important that you, as a caregiver, shift your focus to care for yourself too.

Trying to deal with cancer in someone you love can be hard to bear. Some people thrive on the role, as they feel a sense of purpose in being a caregiver. For others, the future can look uncertain. You are likely to face lifestyle changes such as having to stop work, which can make it tough to adjust to a new reality. You may have to deal with feelings of fear, hopelessness, guilt, confusion, doubt, anger and helplessness, which can cloud your mind and lead to burnout or depression.

During these dark times, I encourage caregivers to reach out. You need not shoulder the burden on your own. Seek support from your family and friends to help you care for your loved one. Make sure you get ample rest, find time to exercise, and plan social activities. Voice your struggles to your cancer team and get professional help. Speak to a counsellor if you think you need it. By taking care of your own needs, caring for your loved one with cancer can give you meaning and a sense of fulfillment.

How to cope

  1. Get organised. Make a list of things you have to do, so that you can keep your priorities in order. Establishing a daily routine can also maximise the quality time you spend with your loved ones.
  2. Set realistic goals. Don’t be too hard on yourself and give yourself room to make mistakes.
  3. Take turns. Rotate your caregiving duties with other family members and loved ones.
  4. Stay connected with friends and family.
  5. Rest and eat well. Establish a good sleeping routine, eat healthily, exercise regularly.


Tags: cancer caregiver, self-care strategies