Caring for your loved one is important, but so are you

Caring for your loved one is important, but so are you

If someone you love was diagnosed with cancer, stepping into the role of a caregiver may have felt natural to you. After all, you want the best for this person, so who better than you to provide love and support?

Nevertheless, caring for someone with cancer can be a huge undertaking. You may feel as though your needs have taken a back seat, so you can focus on your loved one.

However, if you don’t take care of yourself, you may start to become chronically tired, have trouble sleeping, and then feel overwhelmed by everything. In fact, you may already feel weighed down by your sadness about your loved one’s condition, and these feelings and symptoms may get worse if you don’t address your own needs as well.

Try not to feel guilty about taking care of yourself or seeking help from your loved ones or doctors. Caring for yourself isn't selfish, especially when you spend so much of your time as a carer for someone else. Remember, you're important too!

Making time for yourself

There are a number of things that you should try to prioritise when you can. Doing so will help you maintain the balance between caring for your loved one and caring for yourself.

The first thing to keep in mind is physical activity. Adults should try to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Sometimes, that will feel like an unrealistic goal, but even a little bit of exercise can help. If it's difficult to carve out 30 minutes, try breaking it up into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day. Going on a walk with your loved one may be a good idea as well. If appropriate, people living with cancer should try to get some exercise too, so walking together may be beneficial for you both.

Another important thing to stay on top of is your diet. When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, eating unhealthy food may sometimes seem the easiest option, but fuelling your body with healthy food should give you the energy you need to be the best carer you can be.

If you can find a little time to plan your meals in advance, this may help you resist the urge to go for the quicker, easier option. For snacks, consider healthy choices that require little to no preparation: nuts, yoghurt and fresh fruit.

In addition to exercising and eating well, don’t forget about getting enough sleep. When you’re caring for someone living with cancer, you may feel as though there simply aren't enough hours in the day. But getting the necessary amount of sleep may help you be the best carer you can be. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This may help you get a better night's sleep, so you can wake up feeling rested.

It's also important that you take time for yourself to relax in ways that you really enjoy, so you can recharge and be ready to face the next day. This might be as simple as going to lunch with a friend or watching a comedy programme.

You might also want to try using ByYourSide, a free app designed to help people manage a loved one’s care and update friends and family on their behalf. You can also use the app to track your mood, pain, sleep and steps, which may help you take care of yourself too.

Don’t forget your own health

One thing is for certain – being there for your loved one can have a huge impact. Billy, a jazz musician who has had cancer in his kidney, liver, lungs and brain, is so grateful for the loving support of his wife, daughter and friends over the years. "One of the things I found out is that I had chosen my friends well," he says.

"One of the things I found out is that I had chosen my friends well."

As you focus on being the best carer you can be, try not to neglect your own needs. Keep monitoring your own health, continue taking any medicine you’ve been prescribed and make a doctor’s appointment if you have any concerns.

The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to take care of your loved one.