Helping Cancer Caregivers Care for Themselves

Helping Cancer Caregivers Care for Themselves

Thursday, April 27, 2017

When people are diagnosed with cancer, it's easy to overlook the toll the disease also takes on their caregivers—whether that support person is a family member, friend or social worker who specializes in cancer care.

Cancer can dramatically alter relationships, forcing parents to depend on their children, or independent people to rely on loved ones. And those who support cancer patients—such as spouses, partners, siblings, children or friends—tend to put their own needs on the back burner.

Caregivers who keep their mind and body healthy, however, are able to provide better care for their loved ones, advised Lauren Kriegel and Autumn Banta, oncology social workers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. 

Finding the time and energy to take care of yourself may seem difficult while caring for someone with cancer, Kriegel and Banta pointed out, but there are ways caregivers can take care of themselves without spending a lot of time or money. Kriegel and Banta offered the following suggestions:


  • Don't feel guilty about self-care. It's common to feel badly about doing something for yourself if your loved one is coping with cancer, and it's important to identify and share these feelings, but don't let them prevent you from addressing your own needs. You can't help someone else if your energy is low and patience is short.

  • Make a happy list. Write down some of the things that help you feel joy, such as listening to certain music, going for a walk or taking a bubble bath. Be sure to regularly carve out a bit of time to do these things.

  • Relax. Find ways to stay relaxed and calm. It's important to maintain healthy sleep habits. Staying relaxed may also include breathing exercises, guided imagery or meditation. There are apps you can download to help guide you through this process.

  • Don't be hard on yourself. It's important to show compassion toward others, but it's equally important to cut yourself some slack. Caregivers often feel stressed. Be sure to recognize this, and take small steps to help you ease this strain.

  • Ask for help. Reach out to an oncology social worker. This is a professional who can devise a personalized plan to help you cope with your role as a caregiver. 

Local Caregiver Support Services

Sarasota Memorial offers a variety of caregiver support programs—from wellness exercise classes to support groups, and cancer-information specialists—for those facing the challenge of caring for a cancer patient or supporting a cancer survivor. 

  • Through our medically integrated fitness center, HealthFit, and in partnership with the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the Suncoast (JFCS), SMH offers Thrive oncology-specific yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and Recovery Exercise group fitness classes designed specifically to combat the harsh side effects of cancer and promote the personal wellness of patients, survivors, families and caregivers throughout their cancer journey. The Thrive classes are open to the public, not just HealthFit members or SMH patients. For details, call 941-917-7000. Additional classes and programs are available at JFCS.

  • SMH’s calendar of support group meetings includes dedicated meetups for cancer patients, survivors and their support people. The Men to Men Support Group offers a safe, comfortable environment for those affected by prostate cancer to connect with others facing the same challenges. Those affected by breast cancer can connect during the Woman to Woman Support Group meetings. For information on these and our other support groups, call 941-917-7777.

  • Our supportive care specialists are here for guidance and support during all stages of illness. SMH’s oncology-certified social worker, Elizabeth Bornstein, helps caregivers and patients cope with a diagnosis, identify cancer-specific resources and plan for the future. For information, call the HealthLine at 941-917-7293.

  • SMH Breast Health Navigator Kristi Stetson helps breast-cancer patients and their caregivers navigate the sometimes confusing and complex process of cancer care. 

You will also find a wealth of information on cancer care and support services at the SMH Cancer Information Center, located on the hospital’s first floor, or access printable cancer-related resources by clicking here.

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved. Revised by SMH staff.
The information in this article, including reference materials, are provided to you solely for educational or research purposes. Information in reference materials, are not and should not be considered professional health care advice upon which you should rely. Health care information changes rapidly and consequently, information in this article may be out of date. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.
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