Nursing an oncology patient around the clock and without any days off is emotionally, physically, and psychologically challenging.
Stress becomes increasingly debilitating due to a much heavier than usual burden of everyday difficulties. Anxiety caused by worry, sadness, and irritability becomes a constant companion. The worst-case scenario is developing depression, depriving you of the ability to eat, sleep, and do the things that used to bring you joy.
And there are many reasons for similar problems: Starting with the double amount of anxiety of facing the reality that you may lose someone you love while at the same time trying to quell your own fears of an uncertain future.
Besides, while a cancer diagnosis can bring you closer together in the long run during the most difficult moments, it is likely to strain relationships with the patient and people close to them.
Crushing doubts can also stem from a lack of financial strength and thoughts that you will not be able to take care of someone who is ill, other family members, or even yourself.
Or, by trying to meet the patient’s needs as much as possible, you will have less and less time and inclination to socialise, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Finally, you may develop this feeling of having no choice, where even if you genuinely want to take care of someone diagnosed with cancer, in some situations, the role of caregiver makes you feel like you are trapped.
Feeling irritated, lost or gained weight, having sleep problems?
Don’t ignore these signs.
It’s completely normal you’re facing some difficulties when taking care of a loved one who is fighting cancer. However, there are some signs indicating that it’s time to pay more attention to yourself. Otherwise, it might lead you to burnout or even depression.
If you’ve noticed that you’re not sleeping well, it becomes hard for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, or you’re sleeping longer than normally consider it as a red flag.
Feeling stressed out might be one of the main reasons disrupting the sleep rhythm. Keep in mind that our physical health and emotional well-being are closely related, which means if you’re facing sleep problems it might lead to worse psychological health and vice versa.
Weight changes are another indicator that you may need help. When looking after someone with cancer, increased stress can cause weight loss or, conversely, weight gain. Stress has a huge impact on our digestive system, so track your weight, and if there are noticeable changes take it as a clear message to ask for help.
Another sign you shouldn’t ignore is mood swings, increased anger or irritation, feeling of helplessness. It may mean that you’re facing burnout. We understand that it might be hard to admit you’re carrying too much but remember – asking for help is a sign of strength.
Keep your well-being in mind
The first step towards greater self-love is realising that it is not something you nurture out of selfish reasons but with the aim of remaining a strong pillar for the one who needs you.
We invite you to follow this approach and read our advice to help you prioritise and strike a win-win balance.
Take care of your physical health
Caring for someone battling cancer requires comprehensive endurance, which comes from a balanced diet, sufficient hours of quality sleep, and regular engagement in physical activities.
Exercise not only improves your physical well-being but also lifts your mood, adds variety to your routine, and maybe even gives you a new hobby that brings positive emotions.
In case of health problems, you should seek professional advice as soon as possible, take the prescribed medicines responsibly, and pay attention to other medical advice.
Seek emotional support
People who are willing to listen, compassionate, and understanding help you stay strong in difficult circumstances. There’s a reason why people say there is no such thing as someone else’s pain.
So strengthen your ties within your immediate family and other people close to you, and keep in touch with supportive friends as often as possible.
Perhaps you should even consider joining a support group for people caring for cancer patients?
Communities going through similar experiences are there to share everyday concerns, give advice, and empathetic comfort.
There is nothing wrong with admitting that it’s difficult to provide quality care for a cancer patient on your own, which is why we encourage you to express this in the aforementioned circle of close people. And, of course, seek specific help as soon as you need it, whether it’s for household chores or doctor’s appointments or to get away from it all for a while and focus on yourself.
Sharing responsibilities will help you recharge and protect you from burning out.
If you feel like everything is becoming too overwhelming, share this article with people close to you. It might help them better understand how they can help.
Remember, others might have no idea what you’re going through, so speaking up and asking for help is very important not only for your own good, but also for the person you’re taking care of.
Have me time
Don’t forget who you were before your loved one’s illness, what brought you joy, and happiness.
We know your priorities have changed, but it is crucial you find at least a few minutes for your own hobbies. Even better, add new rituals to your list of favorite activities.
Whatever it is, be it the aforementioned sports, a ceramics group class, reading, nature walks, or mindfulness and meditation practices, you will create moments of respite that will balance your inner world.
Learning more about the form of the disease and advances in treatment methods from reliable sources (scientific articles, specialized books, etc.) will help you pose the right questions to the medical professionals, better understand your loved one’s condition, and provide them with effective care.
However, every case of cancer is unique, so you should share any information you gather with professionals.
Once you’ve been given the go-ahead to act on the knowledge you have acquired, feel free to use it to quell your anxiety and more confidently accompany your loved one on their extraordinary journey.
Accept your emotions
Probably the majority of caregivers will agree that taking care of your loved one is challenging, to say the least, and it’s absolutely normal that this experience brings a range of emotions, including guilt, frustration, and sadness.
Try to recognize each emotion and accept it without beating yourself up about how you feel; they are a natural response to the difficult circumstances you are currently facing. And sometimes, the easiest way to “process” your feelings is by expressing them in a safe and understanding environment (see “Seek emotional support”).
Remember, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping those around you.
You should never feel guilty for taking care of yourself, your emotional and physical health. Keep in mind warning signs, like insomnia or weight changes, and if you’ve noticed any of them be wise and ask for help. It will only help you to become an even better caregiver.
If sometimes you are so full of it and just want to rant out, you are always welcome to join our online cancer support community, we would be happy to help you out!