Supporting Our Caregiver Heroes This November and All Year Long
All year long, CancerCare supports the vital roles caregivers play in helping their loved ones cope with cancer. This November, as part of National Family Caregivers Month, we are celebrating the valuable contributions of caregivers and shining a light on the resources and support available to them.
Dina Smith, CancerCare’s Caregiver Program Coordinator, highlights some of the frequent concerns that often come up among individuals caring for their loved ones with cancer. “Burnout and not taking time for oneself is a big concern.” She recommends caregivers connect with other caregivers for support, whether it’s through friends, support groups or through other online support communities. Most importantly, shares Dina, is that caregivers build in time for themselves. “I like to think of one of my favorite exercise instructors and something she said that resonates with me. We are so quick to plug in and recharge our phones and computers as soon as our electronic device’s battery reaches that red bar, but why are we so quick to let ourselves burn out? We need to treat ourselves like we treat our technology.”
Because the contributions of caregivers are all too often overlooked, Dina has asked various caregiver clients what resources they feel are missing to them and what additional support they could benefit from. “When they walk into the hospital where their loved one is seeking treatment, mental health and therapy for the patient are very upfront. However, a lot of people do not know that there is mental health support available specifically to caregivers through support groups and individual counseling,” she notes. For caregivers, “everything is a whirlwind. From the moment of diagnosis to the present point when they are speaking with me or other social workers, we often hear that the caregiver’s life becomes a blur. Caregivers may experience feelings of anger, guilt and/or sadness and feel conflicted for having those feelings when their loved one has cancer. As social workers, we are here to validate these feelings. We emphasize this because we don’t want caregivers to feel in the dark about their own struggles.”
In addition to ongoing support groups, publications and online education and self-care workshops for caregivers as well as recommended readings and podcasts covering topics for caregivers, this month CancerCare also has many other programs geared specifically towards providing caregivers with coping and mindfulness techniques and other resources meant to provide caregivers with a supportive space, including a workshop later this month for caregivers on shared decision-making.
With the holiday season around the corner, Dina also acknowledges that this time of year can be particularly stressful for many caregivers – doctors are more likely to be away, concerns about hosting larger gatherings, on top of COVID outbreaks – all of these added stressors can be extra hard on caregivers focusing on what their loved ones can and cannot do. “Dedicate time to yourself and focus on what you can specifically do for yourself that would make your holiday enjoyable,” Dina recommends. “Whether it’s having a smaller family get-together, explaining that people need to come to you and your loved one for the holiday or carving out time to uphold meaningful traditions – be sure you prioritize your needs and wants as well.”
To learn more about our advocacy work on cancer caregiving, be sure to read our recent report on “Cancer Caregivers: National Research Report on Shared Treatment Decision-Making” and visit our resources page to find additional support as a caregivers.