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Tips for taking care of caregivers

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

November is “Honoring Caregivers Month,” so we are dedicating this month’s post to the amazing support that caregivers provide all year round. Also, we’re going to talk about ways caregivers can support someone else – themselves!

Caregiver support is important for patients and can have positive impact on their quality of life, symptoms and even survival. Caregivers do it all from providing home care and management, personal care, appointment coordination, transportation and companionship. Caregivers are often happy to provide this incredible support and wouldn’t dream of NOT doing this. But, it’s also a big job and getting support for yourself is incredibly helpful for your quality of life.

Caregivers can experience stress and strain. They are concerned for their loved one and experience their cancer journey closely. Your loved one has experienced a big change in their life and may be having:

  • Lots of appointments
  • Support at home
  • Pain, fatigue, and other physical changes
  • Depression and anxiety

As the caregiver, you are likely to experience these things, too. You also have the stress of watching a person you love go through a difficult experience. With all that you are doing, it’s likely that you are putting your own care needs aside to focus on your loved one. It’s important to take time for yourself and make sure your needs are being met. Here are some ideas to help make sure you are taking care of yourself so that you can provide the best care for your loved one:

  • Ask for help. A family member or friend may be able to bring dinner or come and spend a few hours with your loved one so that you can get out for a few hours. You could ask someone to run some errands for you so that you can take that off of your to-do list. Try to be specific with your requests. Many people would like to be helpful, but some don’t know what would be best and are afraid to ask. They will likely be happy to help, and happier to know that what they are doing is exactly what you need.
  • Spend time with your loved one doing something or talking about something that is not cancer-related. It can be easy to start seeing your loved one as a patient instead of the person you enjoy spending time with. Play a game, go for a walk together, or watch a movie. Connecting with this person outside of the cancer journey can remind you of all of the good times you have shared and will continue to enjoy together.
  • Make time for physical activity. Getting up and moving around is helpful for your health. Regular physical activity has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety and can lower your stress. Make a goal for yourself. Can you get in a 10-minute walk before or after dinner? Try to get those walks in three times a week and build on from there. Make sure to think through what you will need to plan to help you meet your goals. You might need to set an alarm on your phone, or keep your shoes by the door. Planning for activity can help to make sure that you achieve your goal.
  • Rest. Just like your loved one, you need to get your rest and good sleep. Have a nighttime routine in place to help your brain and body get ready for rest. Try to put your screens away about an hour before sleeping, listen to some soft music, or do some meditation. Also, aim to get to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Your body will start to learn that schedule and will adapt for sleeping.

If you need help, there are support groups available. If you are in the area of the Penn State Cancer Institute, there are several groups available for support: Not in the Penn State area? Head on over to to learn how to find the right support group for you.

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