Self-Care: Tips for Caregivers from ONS

Follow-up for caregivers requested by ONS attendees

I have met several people who have read my articles on caregiving at ONS 2017. Although they spoke of how happy they were that I’d written on the subject of self-care, they said I hadn’t laid out the specific steps or things I thought one should practice.

To be clear, the reasons for not making a "10 things" list was because I am a staunch believer in doing what works best for you. That being said, the responses that I got made me think more about it. Thus, the list that follows was formed.

- If you are the caregiver, when the one you loved is diagnosed you simply aren’t the priority anymore. It is still important to remember to fuel yourself. I do not mean with fast food or even with what is found in a hospital cafeteria. No, I mean things that are rich in nutrients that will help you get through the long and seemingly endless days.

- Remember to check out. I mean phones off, no work and no contact. No responding to all of those people asking how you or your loved one is doing. No emails, texts or tweets. Unplug from the world, breathe and reset.

- This next one may seem confusing following the direction to unplug, but they are both equally important. Like most things, it is a balance and I promise in time you will figure it out. Utilize your friends. Call on your tribe, buddies or squad when things are too much for you to handle on your own. It is always okay to seek help. Nobody should go through cancer alone.

- Staying active when all you want to do is be bedside can be a real struggle. I know that it absolutely was for me. In a lot of ways it feels like we do go non-stop in an effort to get everything done in a day. That isn’t quite the active that we need though. Physically it is good to leave the clinical setting and go for a walk and run. Mentally you need to stay present, too. Read books, do crosswords or sudoku. Stay sharp, it will help.

- Separating yourself from the situation may be a difficult thing to do. When it is that person you love so much, it may even seem impossible. No matter how hard, you need to leave them sometimes. Force yourself to go home, take that shower and keep up the home front. It is hard, but life does keep going.

- Guilt can be a powerful emotion. Do not let it overtake you. Spend time doing what you love, even when the one you love is going through cancer. Find just that one thing for yourself. It doesn’t have to be something big or something small. It just has to be something for you outside of the world of cancer.

- Sleep. One word, five letters that matter so very much. Go home, lay your head down and rest up in your own bed. Exhaustion will not make anything that you are going through any easier to deal with.

These are not random things that I just thought up. They are very tangible things that I was advised to do by friends and nurses that I either tried to practice or didn't understand how important they were, or they were things that I wish somebody had told me. I hope that it can help all of you cope just a little bit better on each of your own cancer journeys.