November is Family Caregivers Month

When a member of the family has breast cancer, the rest of us are so focused on trying to make sure that the patient has all that she needs, at all times, that we sometimes forget that the caregiver (spouse, mother, sister daughter, best friend, partner) also has needs.

So it is real good to see that a whole month has now been designated as a time for recognizing the hard work of caregivers, as well as their own basic need to be acknowledged and supported.

And now the holidays

During this time of the year, the holidays beginning with Thanksgiving can really wreak havoc on everyone’s schedules. And though it may be a time to give thanks that our loved ones are still with us, it is also a time to remember that caregivers are now more burdened than ever, trying to juggle doctor’s appointments, prescription pick-ups from the pharmacy, meal preparation for the patient, laundering the linens, and—and the tasks go on and on.

And somebody is supposed to be grocery shopping for all the needed ingredients of a Thanksgiving meal, too? And then the onslaught of Christmas? Yikes!

A perfect time to invent a new tradition

If you are a caregiver, this is an especially good time to stop trying to be Superman or Wonder Woman. You get no extra brownie points in heaven for trying to be everything for everybody. Remember, too, that if you get sick or exhausted, what then happens to the loved one you are taking care of?

So make a list of all of the tasks that you do. In fact, you might actually need to write them down as you perform them, since you’ve got so many chores that chances are you’ll otherwise forget a lot of them (like picking up stamps so you mail out hospital bill payments on time).

Now write down the names of people—family members or friends—who can help lighten this load by doing some of these tasks for you. (Hey, don’t feel guilty about doing this: They too will be taking their turn as caregiver one day, and you will certainly pitch in then and help them plenty.)

And don’t forget to jot down the names of people who have already asked you how they can help, and who you quickly and stoically informed that you’re “doing just fine, but thanks anyway.”

How will you spend these stolen moments?

You’ll have several things of importance to consider:

  • Exercise. Did you know that people serving in the caregiver role tend to gain weight? (Go hop on the bathroom scale and see what I mean.) Several factors might explain these extra pounds. You’re often more sedentary, being at home while your loved one sleeps or when she just wants you sitting beside her while she watches TV. Also, when a loved one is sick—particularly when she sometimes has no appetite and must be tempted to eat something—we often tend to stock the pantry with more comfort-type foods. And of course those delicacies are right under your nose, and they easily make it into your mouth, too. You don’t need to run to a gym, unless you want to. You can do 10-minute increments of exercise by walking on a treadmill or by going up and down the stairs. (The experts say that 3 10-minute bouts of exercise are the equivalent of a half-hour workout for that day. These mini workouts, though, must be at least 10 minutes long to count.)
  • Sit and read something totally unrelated to breast cancer. A magazine, a book, even the funny papers. Take your mind someplace else for a few moments and enjoy the breathing space.
  • Engage in some activity that you really love. If someone volunteers to come and be with your loved one for a few hours, as she recovers or copes with breast cancer, then consider going to a movie, or getting a spa treatment—something that excites, soothes, and nourishes you all at the same time. Such things take just a few hours but can restore your soul in a wonderful way.
  • Do not be the one to organize Thanksgiving dinner this year. Let someone else take charge, and let them hold the feast at their house. You and your ailing loved one can decide on that day whether to go for the meal, or just for the blessing at the beginning of the meal. However long you decide to stay, be sure to pack up lots of food to take home and eat at your leisure later.
  • Make an early New Year’s resolution to keep exploring this thrilling new territory. Starting this month, promise yourself that you will find 1 hour a day for yourself, and then stick to it. You might sometimes decide to divide up your hour into 10- or 15-minute blocks, but make sure that you do it. While she is napping, don’t scrub the kitchen floor; instead, take a power nap yourself or get that magazine out. (BTW, time spent sitting on the toilet does not count toward any of the special intermissions referenced above!)

©1996-2012, Johns Hopkins University. All rights reserved. Disclosure: The information provided here is compiled by The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine with editorial supervision by one or more of the members of the faculty of the School of Medicine pursuant to a license agreement with Yahoo! Inc. under which the School of Medicine and its faculty editors receive licensing fees and payment for services rendered within the scope of the License Agreement. Johns Hopkins subscribes to the HONcode principles of the Health on the Net Foundation.

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