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Finding Balance: 7 Life Hacks If Your Loved One Has Cancer

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times

Caregivers are the unsung heroes of cancer care. They stand with patients to provide critical emotional and physical support and care that enables cancer patients to complete their treatments. The role of caregiver can be overwhelming at times, but by taking a few practical steps it’s possible to find balance.

Below are seven tips – or “life hacks” – to help simplify and create balance and efficiency for caregivers.

  1. Start a schedule. This can eliminate some of the stress caregivers feel because it provides a sense of control and order. Start by listing your caregiving-related tasks and ordering them by importance. List the names and availability of family and friends willing to help and the tasks with which they can assist.
  1. Create a “caregiver’s” binder. Stay organized by keeping information in one place. Include contact information for healthcare providers, insurance cards, and a list of ongoing needs. Create an appointment tracker that includes details about past and upcoming visits, a list of prescriptions and dosing information, dietary restrictions, and a symptom tracker. Texas Oncology’s Care Guide provides a great foundation.
  1. Pack a bag. Treatment and the days following can be grueling for cancer patients. Pack a bag with your loved one’s favorite things to offer a sense of comfort during long treatment days. It’ll help the hours go by a little more quickly for you, too. Books, magazines, tablets, adult coloring books, playing cards, and comfort items like blankets, and socks are great items to include. Have water, juice, or ginger ale, snacks, hard candies, and nausea relief medication at the ready. Bring along the caregiver’s binder so you can note upcoming appointments and special instructions you receive from the care team.
  1. Check the pantry. During cancer, certain smells can cause nausea. Remove foods that may trigger sickness and replace them with foods you know your loved one can eat to help ease the taste changes that often accompany cancer.
  1. Meal prep for yourself and your loved one. Preparing meals in advance for both you and your loved one can help bring a sense of balance and reduce stress for those busy days when there’s little time to cook a homemade meal. Set aside time to choose recipes together, then find a day for healthy meal planning and preparation.
  1. Create a private social media group. Your loved one may have numerous people anxiously awaiting health updates. Some social media platforms, provide a central location for interaction with family, friends, and the community to receive updates and show support and love – either through open or closed groups. This also eliminates the overwhelming feeling to respond to multiple calls and text messages.
  1. Take care of yourself.  When you are giving so much in caring for your loved one, it’s important to take time for yourself. Get in the habit of setting aside time for yourself each day. When possible, find someone else who can step in to help you, if only briefly. Whether it’s taking a long walk, relaxing quietly with a book, or a weekend trip away, your care is equally important as that of your loved one.

The role of the caregiver is critical in helping a loved one navigate cancer treatment. At Texas Oncology, caregivers are an essential part of the treatment team. Whether caregiving is a new role or something you have done for many years, I hope these suggestions help you find the balance you need to care of yourself so that you care for your loved one.

Andrew Shaw, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Cedar Park, 1401 Medical Pkwy, Building C, Suite 200 in Cedar Park, Texas. For more information, visit TexasOncology.com.

This article originally appeared in the January print issues of:

  • Austin Medical Times
  • Houston Medical Times