If you are the caregiver for a man with prostate cancer, you have probably felt the ups and downs of the journey right alongside him. No doubt, as his health has changed, your everyday life has too. With every medical appointment, every treatment, and every challenge you have faced together, it can have an emotional, mental, and physical toll.
That’s why it’s very important for caregivers to have support too.
Being a caregiver can be a physically demanding experience. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in order for you to be the best caregiver you can be, you need to take care of your own health first. Here are four things that you can do to help ensure you are at your caregiving best:
Sleep may come to you easier than it did before – or maybe not. But getting a good night’s sleep is important, as a lack of it may affect your cognitive abilities, as well as your mood. Try sneaking in a power nap if you find yourself tired during the day.
Maybe it’s exercise – or maybe it’s just a walk in the park with your dog, or a bit of time gardening. Whatever you call it, let it be something you enjoy that engages your moving parts.
As a caregiver, you may already know a thing or two about healthy eating. Canada’s Food Guide provides a good snapshot of what a balanced diet should look like.
A deep breath. When things begin to stress us, our breathing can become quick and shallow, with less oxygen getting into our bodies. Take a few minutes to sit and breathe deeply.
Just as the body needs rest and rejuvenation, your mind requires the same, so that you can continue to ask questions, do research, and be a sounding board for your partner. Here are some tried and true tips that can help you manage the emotional and mental stresses of caregiving:
Talking to others who "have been there" can be a relief. The Canadian Cancer Society and the Prostate Cancer Canada Network offer support groups for caregivers. In Quebec, Procure has links to services and support groups for families too. And finally, if you’re not ready to meet face to face, there are online support groups as well. Visit the Patient and Caregiver Stories to share your stories or hear others talk about their journeys through prostate cancer.
If you haven’t already, now’s the time, to ensure that you have a network of friends and family around you. Say YES to having coffee with a friend; say YES to letting someone bring over a casserole; say YES to letting a family member take over caring duties for a few hours. By saying YES, you allow others to become part of your support, and allow yourself some time to recover. In fact, why not set up a list of activities that your family or friends can sign up to do weekly or monthly? Make it a regular thing.
Laughter may well be the best medicine: studies have shown that laughing can boost your immune system and give you a boost of energy. So make sure you leave room in your DVD player for lots of comedies.
You want to be brave in front of your loved one, but crying is not a sign of weakness. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that you’re experiencing. If it’s easier, talk to a social worker or counselor about your feelings.
Just as you would schedule a doctor’s appointment or a treatment appointment for your partner, you need to ensure that there is a “ME” appointment regularly put in the calendar as well. It could be a few hours every week. Give yourself that time to do something important to you…or nothing at all.
A routine may help things feel “normal” at home and give a sense of predictability in an unpredictable world. At the same time, plan some special events together – maybe a nice meal out, or a Sunday morning drive to the countryside. A break from the routine can be refreshing too.
"You have to do fun stuff, your own hobbies, lose yourself in your work, and have family and friends you can rely on. And you have to have people to whom you can say, "I need to call you and cry on the phone," or "I need to spend an evening with you, and we can’t talk about anything related to medicine." Know yourself well enough to let the people around you know what you need."5
-Deborah, wife of prostate cancer patient