Only 9 days into May and The Butterfly Club has had the opportunity to provide 5 wigs to women in need. While it gives us such great happiness to be able to be here to support our Butterfly friends, there is no doubt that providing care to others who are hurting or in need takes a toll on the caregiver. As we approach the day when we celebrate Mothers, our original caregivers, it's appropriate for us to take a moment to remember that caregivers need to take the time to practice self-care in order to be at their best to support and care for those that they love. Many in The Butterfly Club network are, themselves, caregivers to spouses, mothers, children, sisters or friends who are currently battling cancer.
Who is a caregiver?
In this context we are talking about the people who are caring for and helping a loved one with cancer, on an unpaid basis. Generally there is one person who serves as the primary caregiver, such as a spouse, parent, or adult child.
What are the responsibilities of a caregiver?
Caregivers may feel quite overwhelmed with the number of responsibilities depending upon how sick their loved one is. A caregiver may provide simple assistance such as running errands, cleaning or just providing a shoulder to lean on. There may also be complex assistance required such as bathing and medicine management, power of attorney or estate planning. The level of assistance needed and responsibilities agreed to between the caregiver and the patient and very unique to each individual situation. Caregivers should only agree to provide assistance on tasks they are comfortable with remembering that the most important thing to understand is that the caregiver is the patient's voice and advocate.
While providing care can be stressful, there are many healthy ways to cope with stress. The American Cancer Society suggests the following:
Surround yourself with supportive family
Pursue hobbies or projects for work, church, or your community
Take part in a social or activity group more than once a month
Maintain weight within 10 pounds of the ideal body weight for height and bone structure
Use relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation at least 5 times a week
During an average week, get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (such as walking or yoga) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as jogging or basketball)
Eat a well-balanced, wholesome meal 2 or 3 times during an average day (A balanced meal is low in fat and high in vegetables, fruits and whole-grain foods)
Do something enjoyable “just for me” at least once during an average week
Have a place where you can go to relax or just be alone
Set priorities and manage time every day (such as deciding what tasks are most important, how much you can and can’t do, and get help when needed)
Caregivers in Distress
As caregivers, it is very easy to set your own needs aside in favor of your loved ones in need. However, a caregiver in distress will be ineffective, distracted, and potentially short-tempered even though they have the best of intentions. The American Cancer Society provides a Distress Checklist for caregivers that can be used as a self-assessment tool for times when providing care seems to just be too much.
Where to Go For Help
There are many resources available for caregivers in need. Starting locally, caregivers may be able take a break and find friends or family willing take a "shift" of caregiving to allow the primary caregiver an opportunity to recharge. Professional caregivers such as home health aides may also be able offer some relief. If a caregiver is in need of a shoulder to lean on, friends, family, doctors, counselors and clergy can all offer a listening ear and potentially some healthy coping tips. Additionally, being in the age of technology means you are never alone! The Butterfly Club has a network of support through our Facebook page. As well, the American Cancer Society has a Cancer Survivor's Network Discussion Board devoted especially to Caregivers. These types of forums offer the opportunity for caregivers to reach out to others that feel the same and can share common experiences and coping mechanisms.
You are not Alone
Remember, you are not alone. No matter the situation or hardship, there are people who are here to listen and help. The National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) along with the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) and The Butterfly Club (www.thebutterflyclub.me) are all here to assist and provide resources wherever possible.
The National Cancer Institute's "Caring for the Caregiver" handbook is available here.
The American Cancer Society's "Coping as a Caregiver" give is available here.