Caring for carers

As a carer, helping someone live better with cancer can mean a large responsibility. Often carers feel like they must always put the needs of their loved one above their own and it can be difficult to create ‘you’ time. Many people forget that it is crucial that the needs of a carer are also met, if not your health and well-being will suffer and your ability to care for your loved one will be adversely affected.

Studies have repeatedly shown that carers are at higher risk of ill-health, both physical and mental. So we've spoken to our community and compiled the Live Better With Carers Guide, full of helpful tips and suggestions to help you look after yourself so that you can keep going and provide the best care possible.

This guide will cover:

  • Eating well

  • Treatment planning

  • Better sleep

  • Encouraging independence

  • Emotional wellbeing

 

All these suggestions come from people who have cared for people living with cancer, as well as from experts.

What's important for carers?

  • Eating well - It’s just as important for you, as well as the person you’re caring for, to eat a healthy balanced diet, which isn’t always easy to do when you have a busy schedule filled with caring responsibilities

  • Treatment planning - Caring for a loved one with cancer means different appointments, at different places, with different people at different times in what can seem like a never ending set of trips. Keeping track of all the appointments as well as the different treatment regimens on top of day to day caring responsibilities can seem overwhelming. Creating a structured treatment plan can help reduce carer anxiety and make every week seem more manageable

  • Better sleep - Carers told us that achieving a good night’s sleep can be one of the hardest things to do. Studies have shown that without enough sleep not only will energy levels dip making it harder to carry out daily activities, your capacity to cope with the emotional stresses of caring will also be affected. Taking the time to create an environment that is sleep conducive is crucial for helping your body and brain function and allowing you to provide effective care

  • Encouraging independence - Many cancer patients suffer extreme fatigue and pain during their treatment and rely on their carers to carry out their daily activities and provide help moving around the house if they have reduced mobility. It’s important for carers to encourage their loved ones to be as independent as possible. This will not only reduce the physical strain placed on the carer (many carers suffer physical injury from heavy lifting), but it will also mean that you are empowering their loved one to mobilise safely and independently

  • Emotional wellbeing - Going through cancer can bring up a whole range of strong emotions and feelings, for the person with the illness, but also for the people who care for them. Such a stressful time is bound to put pressure on relationships, and as a carer you may find it hard to discuss your emotions with the person you're caring for, even if they were previously your go-to for emotional support. Looking after your own mental wellbeing will help to keep you feeling more stable, so that you can carry on providing support to other people. 

What can you do about it?

Do you want to eat well?

Do you want to eat well?

“Sometimes I would be so busy, I would simply forget to eat.” - John.

Having a healthy diet is an important contributor to an healthy mind and body, giving you the energy and strength to help you get through your responsibilities as a carer. There are many easy, time saving options available to help you achieve balanced meals, so even the busiest carer can find the time to get some goodness into their diet.

  • Blenders and juicers: Soups and smoothies are both a great way to get more fruit and veg into your diet. Investing in a simple, easy-to-use blender can help you to prepare healthy meals without too much time investment. And blended foods are also a great option for people going through cancer who are having difficulty swallowing or eating meals, so you can prepare meals for both you and your carer. 

  • Cookbooks: If you’re short on inspiration there are plenty of books out there to help you conjure up something exciting and nutritious to eat. Even if you’re pressed for time there are plenty of cook books with easy to follow, simple recipes that don’t take long to prepare so that you and your loved ones can eat well and feel well.

  • Weekly fruit and vegetable boxes: These are the perfect solution to help you eat a healthy and varied diet without the need to plan ahead for meals. Subscription services often deliver fresh ingredients in the right amounts for a set of weekly recipes, saving you time and removing the need for a big weekly trip to the supermarket. All you have to do is cook, and enjoy some fresh, nutritious meals. 

Find these
Do you need help with treatment planning?

Do you need help with treatment planning?

Being organised is crucial to keeping up with appointments, visits and treatment regimens. Having a structured week can be the key to freeing up a couple of hours here and there for carers to look after themselves, and can also help reduce carer anxiety. On top of this, many carers have also told us that having a routine makes it easier to deal with emergencies when they happen. Below are some suggestions from our community of what has helped them.

  • Checklists: Having a few handy lists prepared in case of certain situations can save you some time and stress when caring for someone with cancer. You could have a list of things to pack for a chemo appointment, or an overnight hospital stay. Having a list of the person's medications, appointments etc in your bag at all times might also help you to keep track, and get advice when you need to.

  • Pill boxes: A simple and handy way to remember which pills are to be taken at which time, and also keep them safe and secure when out and about. They come in many varieties to suit different regimens.

  • Cancer planning journals: Designed by someone who cared for her mum through cancer, the CanPlan is a special diary that helps you to track appointments, test results, side effects and many other aspects of daily life with cancer. It also features some great advice and quotes on everything from nutrition to emotional wellbeing. 

Find these
Do you want to get a better night's sleep?

Do you want to get a better night's sleep?

Sleeping well will rest your mind and body, making you more able to deal with the demands of being a carer. It may seem like finding the time to complete all your daily tasks, care for your loved one and manage a household leaves little time to get a good night’s sleep, especially if you are also providing care through the night. Our community have suggested a wide range of products that they have tried and found helpful in creating the right environment for a good night’s sleep.

  • Mindfulness exercises: Mindfulness has been approved by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence as a proven method to help reduce anxieties and improve mental wellbeing. If you can find just ten minutes every day to be alone and do a mindfulness exercise or two, you may find that the habit sticks and becomes an important part of your day. There are lots of mindfulness books, CDs and apps that will guide you through the process, but it's not as complicated as it sounds - one exercise is just to breathe in for 3, and out for 6, for ten minutes. Before going to sleep is a great time to fit in some mindfulness, and it may help you to doze off.

  • Sleep accessories: There are many accessories that can help create a sleep inducing environment. Many people use eye-masks to ensure a completely dark environment. This helps improve sleep quality by reducing light triggers, allowing the body to release the sleep inducing hormone melatonin. Another option is the Dodow, a glowing timer that helps you to time your breathing in a way that activates the body's sleep mechanisms. 

  • Aromatherapy oils and balms: Essential oils such as lavender and chamomile have been shown to help reduce insomnia. Using sleep balms and oils at bedtime could help you get a good night’s sleep and feel energised when you wake up.

Find these
Do you want to help increase independence?

Do you want to help increase independence?

“It is frustrating to watch someone struggle but the sense of achievement they feel when they accomplish it is really important.” - Anne

There are many ways you can help your loved ones lead a more independent life. By helping them achieve this you will empower them to help themselves maintain dignity and improve their quality of life. What’s more, this will allow you the extra time you need to manage other daily activities as well as look after yourself. There are loads of products out there 

  • Easy grip crockery and cutlery: These products have special rubber grips to help someone with limited range of motion in their hands keep hold of utensils whilst cooking or eating

  • One-handed can and jar openers: Particularly good for people with limited use of one hand, this product allows them to function independently by only needing to use their ‘good’ hand. It also means that you can share kitchen duties!

  • Long handled sponges: This bathing aide helps those with pain or stiffness to overcome the challenge of stretching and bending to clean those hard to reach areas, allowing them to wash independently

  • Non-slip bath mats:  These simple mats reduce the risk of falls whilst washing and allow patients with reduce mobility and balance to start to be more independent when washing

  • Raised toilet seat: Helps those who struggle to bend down and rise from a sitting position get on and off the toilet more easily

  • Over-bed hoist: This product helps patients that are too weak to sit up or get out of bed independently meaning you don’t have to worry about being strong enough to lift them up and out of bed everyday

  • Reachers and grabbers: Perfect for those with limited mobility, helping them pick up items without needing to bend down or helping them reach items without having to move or over stretch

 

Find these
Emotional wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing

It goes without saying that going through cancer is a very stressful and emotional experience. People often feel conflicting things, like fear, anger, sadness, denial, hope and shock. But these feelings are not limited to the person experiencing the illness first-hand, and as a carer it's important to recognise your own feelings and needs for emotional support. 

  • Communication: Often when caring becomes an aspect of a relationship, the way those people talk to each other can feel different. You may feel as a carer that you shouldn't burden the person you care for with your own problems, or that your problems aren't as significant as theirs. But it might help your relationship to try and be honest when you're feeling worried or frustrated - after all, the person is still the person you've always known, and they probably care a lot about you too. If things get really difficult, or you find it hard to get the words out, sometimes writing a letter can be a good solution that makes it easier for people to communicate difficult emotions. 
  • Support networks: A trouble shared may not be a trouble halved, but it may go some way to helping you express some of your worries or feelings. Getting support from people outside the caring relationship can really help you to put things in perspective, so if you can, try and fit in a phone call or a meeting with someone who can listen and understand. You might have a friend or family member who can take on this role for you, but it could also be helpful to talk to someone totally external, like a counsellor, a cancer helpline, or a local support group.
  • Online support: Caring might feel lonely at times, and you might often wonder if you're 'doing it right'. A great source of support and advice can be found online, in forums and groups full of people in similar situations to yourself. There are many cancer-related forums online, from the very specific ones about a single form of cancer, to more general ones for carers or family members. 
  • Time to yourself: Even five minutes a day of time alone, taking a deep breath and doing nothing at all, can keep you feeling steady and remind you that even when you're caring full-time, you're a person too. If you can find time to do things that you enjoy, even better. It may feel indulgent at first, but if you can, remember the airline safety message: "Always put on your own oxygen mask before helping others". 
Last but not least...

Last but not least...

  • Take care - by caring for someone else, you're doing something truly amazing, every single day. So try to stay well, keep talking to your own support network, and remember that you're doing your best.
  • If you have any of your own tips and tricks for caring for someone with cancer, we'd love to hear them. You can share them with us and our whole community on our Facebook or Twitter pages, or by emailing us at theteam@livebetterwith.com. 
  • Check out more of our Community Tips for carers, and for lots of other aspects of living with cancer.