When someone you know has cancer: Coping as a caregiver

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – In this column, Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society talks about how to deal with being a cancer caregiver and how to find help from the American Cancer Society. Cahill is Yankton Sioux and lives in Pierre. Her work focuses on cancer education to diverse populations.

Charlotte Hofer: Strength. Composure. Fortitude. How does one attain these characteristics when cancer enters the picture?

Roberta Cahill: When someone special in your life develops cancer, it may seem impossible to find the emotional strength to be the caregiver your loved one needs. One of the most important aspects of providing quality care involves your own ability to solve problems, handle stress, talk with loved ones, and take time for yourself. Your ability to cope has profound effects on your loved one’s ability to overcome cancer and to view you as a source of strength. If you are struggling, than the person with cancer will struggle also.

Hofer: How do I know if I’m coping in a healthy way?

Cahill: The American Cancer Society offers many free online resources to help you know whether you are coping healthily, such as coping checklists. Our anxiety and depression checklists can help you look for feelings and behaviors that may be more serious than the normal distress expected for your situation. Often people don’t realize how anxious or sad they’ve become, and how much impact these feelings have in all areas of their life: even their physical health. To see if you are coping successfully, visit the American Cancer Soci

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mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} When you are busy caring for the person with cancer, who is taking care of you?

If you don’t already use all of these 10 ideas, look at ways you can start adding those that appeal to you. They can help you expand your coping skills.
1. I have a supportive family around me.
2. I pursue a hobby or project for work, church, or my community, for example.
3. I take part in a social or activity group more than once a month.
4. I am within 10 pounds of my ideal body weight for my height and bone structure.
5. I use relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga or progressive muscle relaxation five times a week.
6. During an average week I exercise at least five times for 30 minutes or more.
7. I eat a well-balanced, wholesome meal two or three times during an average day. A
balanced meal is low in fat and high in vegetables, fruits and whole-grain foods.
8. I do something enjoyable “just for me” at least once during an average week.
9. I have a place where I can go to relax or be by myself.
10. I set priorities and manage my time every day (such as deciding what tasks are most important, how much I can and can’t do, and by getting help when needed).

ety Web site at www.cancer.org.

Hofer: What other information is available on the Web site? Do you have tools to help with communicating with someone who has cancer?

Cahill: Yes. The American Cancer Society Web site offers many strategies to use when interacting with your loved one. During their illness, people with cancer often act differently than normal. It is important for caregivers to learn about how people change during treatment and to be prepared for these changes. Because the effects of treatment may make communication with your loved one more complicated, the American Cancer Society Web site offers tips for talking with the person who has cancer.

For example, the Society recently launched a new section on their www.cancer.org Web site specifically designed for caregivers at www.cancer.org/caregivers. This section utilizes existing www.cancer.org content, but organizes it from a caregiver’s perspective. Cancer caregivers will now be able to quickly locate information, articles, tools, and communities most relevant to them by clicking “Caregivers” under the “I need information for …” area on the www.cancer.org home page, or by searching the Web site.

Hofer: Can you give me an example of how these new web tools have helped someone?

Cahill: Sure. Annie Johnson, a 26-year-old cancer survivor from Sioux Falls, battled cancer for two and a half years. Annie and her mother have been using the American Cancer Society’s online tools since Annie’s diagnosis in 2005. Here’s what Annie told me:

“When I was diagnosed with cancer, my mom was desperate for information on my particular cancer and how she could help care for me. I showed her the information on the American Cancer Society’s Web site. She instantly felt connected – like there were others out there that have walked this same road and could help her cope. The ease of using www.cancer.org and the relevance of the information is what kept drawing us back to the Web site each time we had questions.”

Hofer: What should a person do if they are feeling alone in the struggle?

Cahill: Remember that millions of people are fighting the cancer battle – according to the American Cancer Society, 77 percent of Americans have either a family member or close friend who has been diagnosed with cancer at some time. Thirty-five percent have served as an unpaid caregiver for an immediate family member or close friend. And for American Indians, these numbers may be higher.

According to new statistics, American Indians living in the Northern Plains have a 39 percent higher rate of colon cancer than non-Hispanic whites. They also have a 197 percent higher rate of liver cancer, 135 percent higher rate of stomach cancer, and 148 percent higher rate of gallbladder cancer than whites.*

Hofer: Does the American Cancer Society provide ways to connect with other caregivers?

Cahill: Yes, we provide opportunities for caregivers to connect with other caregivers for more personal support. The Cancer Survivors Network CSN Carecast and SharingHope.tv are two interactive online methods of connecting with caregivers nationwide – both of which offer the chance for caregivers to exchange coping strategies and talk about the challenges of being a caregiver with someone who has been one. Visit www.acscsn.org to access the CSN Carecast and www.sharinghope.tv to access SharingHope.tv.

Though cancer caregiver is not a role one willingly chooses, it doesn’t have to be an emotional nightmare. By managing your stress level, working to solve problems effectively, and learning to interact positively, you can provide a better recovery experience for yourself and your loved one.

The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. For cancer information anytime, call (800) 227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

For information about this article, or to share your experience as a caregiver, e-mail Charlotte Hofer, American Cancer Society, at charlotte.hofer@cancer.org.

*Editor’s note: Statistics published in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.

<b>When you are busy caring for the person with cancer, who is taking care of you?</b>

If you don’t already use all of these 10 ideas, look at ways you can start adding those that appeal to you. They can help you expand your coping skills.

1. I have a supportive family around me.

2. I pursue a hobby or project for work, church, or my community, for example.

3. I take part in a social or activity group more than once a month.

4. I am within 10 pounds of my ideal body weight for my height and bone structure.

5. I use relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga or progressive muscle relaxation five times a week.

6. During an average week I exercise at least five times for 30 minutes or more.

7. I eat a well-balanced, wholesome meal two or three times during an average day. A
balanced meal is low in fat and high in vegetables, fruits and whole-grain foods.

8. I do something enjoyable “just for me” at least once during an average week.

9. I have a place where I can go to relax or be by myself.

10. I set priorities and manage my time every day (such as deciding what tasks are most important, how much I can and can’t do, and by getting help when needed).