8 Ways To Practice Caregiver Self Care When Cancer Strikes.

 Developing a caregiver self care ritual will help you stay in this for the long haul.  These tips and ideas to get you started are priceless.  Cancer is extremely overwhelming and establishing hacks and routines to make the day easier is essential to your health and wellbeing.  Challenges like using a planner daily will help you tremendously so you can save your energy for the important stuff.

Caregiver self care can be a tough thing to figure out.  When my dad was first diagnosed with Lung Cancer, life got really insane, really fast.

Update: When cancer explodes into your family, the stress is unbelievable. Finding a way to keep fighting when you’re exhausted is one of the hardest parts.  You can do this, no matter how crazy things get… 

Take Back Your Life From Cancer is a journal created to help you find hope, perspective and the motivation you’ll need to stay strong so you keep fighting for the long haul… 

 You can get Take Back Your Life From Cancer here for free…

The moment someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, life as you know it changes tremendously. Adjusting to this “new normal” is a pretty intense process.

Once I became his full time caregiver, things got really crazy.  Suddenly, I was drowning in the overwhelm, had literally no time for anything outside of cancer, and the pressure of this whole situation was taking a serious toll on my well being.

I get it.  You barely have time to brush your teeth, you can’t possibly fit anything else into your jam packed schedule.  But you have to. Caregiver self care is a MUST if you are going to be doing this for the long haul (and you are).       

We can help you find the time here…

This situation is completely terrifying, not to mention overwhelming and if you don’t put a few things in place to give yourself a break the stress of all of this will consume you.

These 8 areas are a great place to start, and a little easier to incorporate into an already packed schedule… 

Plan Some Time Off

This cancer business is all-consuming.  Like seriously. Once it drops in, it literally takes over your life.  And once you’re done dealing with the appointments, treatments, symptoms and side effects even for a moment… Then cancer invades your mind. 

You need to plan for some time away from this.  This is bigger than a full-time job, at least at the end of the day at a job you get to go home… Caregiving is constant.  Mentally, physically and emotionally draining. Even when you’re not there physically, you’re thinking about everything that needs to be done.

Have a friend or a relative step in to help.  If you’re nervous about how that’s gonna go (I always was, because who better than me to do EVERYTHING ????).  

Start small.  Stay around the house, just take an hour or two to lay around and watch trash tv (so you can focus on someone else’s problems for a while), take a bubble bath or even a nap.  

Ease into it if you’re worried about leaving for long periods of time.

Here’s the reality and one of the things that my mom used to remind me of constantly…

If you don’t take care of yourself and you “go down” (sick, hospitalized, otherwise unavailable) we are SCREWED.  

It’s not easy to find time for caregiver self care.  Taking care of yourself during some of the most stressful moments of your life, but it’s necessary!  Even if you can only spare an hour, TAKE IT! And do whatever you want with that time. Something for you!  

Find help.  Then you have to ACCEPT the help (that is usually the more difficult part).  Start with half an hour. Take that time and do anything you want you want to do.

Get Support 

The good news is, this is one of the most difficult situations you will EVER encounter.  If you can get through this, you can literally get through anything. You are going to come out stronger and wiser than you can even comprehend right now.

The bad news is, you would trade all of this strength and wisdom for no cancer (which is not an option) and cancer battles can last a long, long time.  Like years (trust me, you’ll be praying that this battle lasts forever).  

My point is, this isn’t a “short sprint” and then everything goes back to normal.  This can be a long and exhausting journey with no light at the end of the tunnel for really long periods of time.  

Finding support in several different ways will help with caregiver self care tremendously.  

Things like…    

  • Cuddling and/or playing with pets.  This is a huge stress reliever and pets tend to be naturally fun and loving.
  • Spending time with kids.  Kids bring a whole other perspective to the situation and are naturally stress relieving, not to mention entertaining.  A little fun and entertainment can go a long way in how you feel about… well everything, actually.
  • Time with people you love.  The people in your life who have always supported you… Those are the people you’ll want to seek out now.  The ones who love you, listen to you and make you laugh out loud (you’ll be shocked at how much better you feel after a good laugh). Identify the people who make you happy, bring the serenity, give good advice or are incredible listeners and line them up for some much needed bonding time.  Bonus:  You can do this in your living room in your pajamas with wine.
  • Talk to a professional:  This whole experience is a lot for anyone to handle.  So at some point, I had to decide to move beyond my friends and family and talk to a counselor.  They can help you develop coping skills, and have ideas and solutions to obstacles that you may be too drained to see on your own.  

 Simple things that are easy to apply.  And honestly, just having someone listen while you vent every ounce of your being is an incredible relief.  I NEVER left there without feeling emotionally “lighter” and just a little better equipped to handle whatever this disease could throw at me.

Say No Sometimes

You can’t do everything.  I know that you already know that, but when was the last time you found yourself in a position that you actually let things go.    Caregiver self care means you have to say no sometimes which can be hard and super uncomfortable.

You’re totally overloaded, even if you have people to help you, this is a lot.  

You want to…

  • Take care of every issue and ailment
  • Work
  • Run your home
  • Spend time with your family
  • Attend every soccer or basketball game your kids have
  • Attend every appointment
  • Make dinner every night

I totally get it.  I did too. You can’t do everything.  You. Just. Can’t.

Make a list of everything you need/want to do in a day.  Everything you are responsible for, everything you want to get done in a day, the things that are important to you and even the obligations you sometimes get sucked into.

Once you have your list, number each item according to its importance.  1 being the most important thing and everything else should be numbered accordingly.  Put a question mark by things that might come up so they can be added to the list, as needed. 

?-Take care of every issue and ailment

3- Work

6- Run your home

2- Spend time with your family 

5- Attend every soccer or basketball game

1- Dr. Appointments and Treatment

4- Make dinner 

7- Dinner with the neighbors.

Now, anything at the bottom of the list will either get axed completely or modified.  

Here’s an example…

Run your home gets broken down into the necessities (dishes, laundry, bills and a 15 minute pick up daily). I know it’s hard, but no one will die if you don’t scrub your bathtub or dust your mantle.  

However, you do need clothes and if you don’t pay the bills, they might turn off the lights.  You have modified a very broad and complicated area to a manageable scenario that you can either do yourself or have someone else complete for you simply by focusing on the most important pieces.  

Attend every soccer or basketball game.  Last week, no joke, my stepson had 4 basketball games over the course of a week and a robotics competition on the 5th day.  I hate to miss anything, but it can be a full-time job trying to attend everything.  

It adds a lot of pressure to an already packed schedule.  So here’s the deal. I attended two of the games and the robotics competition.   That’s what I was able to fit into my schedule and so that’s what I did. Some weeks, I couldn’t fit anything extra in and I missed all of the games.  

You do the best you can and modify as you need to, that’s one of the most important parts of caregiver self care.   

Journal 

If you’re not doing this, start today.   Journaling is an easy and free way to dump some of the stress and anxiety you’re feeling and find some perspective in the middle of the storm.  You can write to yourself or, you can write to God… Just make sure you write all of the things that you have going on in your mind.  

First of all, this is an incredible way to get some of this “stuff” out of your system. You won’t believe how much better you’ll feel once you dump all of your feelings, worries, fears and stress out onto paper.  It’s like shedding 10 lbs.

You’ll feel better.

Releasing some of this anxiety will help you feel like you can handle this (something I don’t always feel before I write it all out).

It helps you solve problems.

Writing things out helps you to look at this situation from a different angle which can help you stumble onto solutions. I frequently had “duh” moments after journaling where a pretty simple solution to a very stressful problem practically jumped off the page. 

You find perspective.

Our mind has a bad habit of playing tricks on you by going straight to the worst-case scenario and creating even more fear and panic.  NO MATTER WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, IT’S PROBABLY NOT AS BAD AS WHAT YOU HAVE GOING ON IN YOUR HEAD.  By writing it down and getting it out of your system, you’ll find yourself realizing that some of the fears you are experiencing are just your mind playing tricks on you.  

It helps you become a better caregiver. 

Take inventory of what went well today?  What went bad? What do you wish you would have done better?  Those are the questions that are going to help you grow and ultimately become stronger every single day.   

It helps you see and appreciate things differently. 

Nothing makes you appreciate really small and amazing moments like cancer.  Things that you have been taking for granted your whole life, will suddenly feel like the most important things on earth.  Things that used to make you insane, seem totally ridiculous and irrelevant. Cancer helps you stop wasting time on nonsense.

Seek Health Care 

I hope this goes without saying, but this situation makes it difficult to prioritize things like your own health.  I mean, really… who has time to worry about a mammogram? You can just get one next year, right?  

If you think thats true, you should read this…

If this experience has taught me anything, it’s to pay attention to your health.  Make a point to show up for your yearly physical AND any recommended cancer screenings.  Cancer runs in families and catching it early is a huge factor in having a good outcome.

You can find a list of Cancer Screenings recommended by Memorial Sloan Kettering (including age, frequency, ect.) here…

Get Your Sh@t Together

This cancer business became a lot easier for everyone once we got our stuff together.  This may not seem like an important caregiver self care area, but it really, really is.

 In the beginning, we were not only blindsided by this, but we were also a mess.  We didn’t have any kind of system in place. I was forgetting more than I was remembering and there was information flying at us from every angle.

Even if you’re naturally a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of girl like I am, this is WAY too overwhelming and important just to wing it.

Cancer is a ton of stress and anxiety.  So, even when you’re stressed to the max… you still need to get to all your appointments, understand and make decisions about options and keep track of all the important information flying at you.

It sounds simple, but it’s not.  NO ONE could possibly keep all of this craziness straight unless they have a system.  Otherwise, you’ll spend a ton of time scrambling through stacks of papers looking for that one document you actually need.  

It’s a lot, and the stress of the whole situation just compounds the fact that you’re a mess.

There are a few quick things you can put in place, that will make life easier for you though so you can get some of the basic stuff on autopilot.  

Organize Your Medical Information

This was born out of necessity.  Within a week of my dad’s diagnosis, we had so many stacks of paperwork it would make your head spin.  Discharge papers, medical bills, labs, treatment information, emergency, and staging information…. The list is endless.  

There is a ton of paperwork and information when it comes to cancer.  And we were drowning in it.  

And then we lost a disc that held up our admission to Memorial Sloan Kettering (and the start of treatment).  That was the last straw.  

Cancer is like a whirlwind of information and emergencies flying at you from every angle.  It’s easy for important information to get lost in the chaos and the overwhelm.   

We desperately needed a step by step easy to follow system to get all of our medical information organized.  

And we found one.  A no hassle, no stress, and minimum energy spent searching for the medical information you need (WHEN you need it!).  It has clear instructions, a quick and easy setup, and it takes minutes to maintain.  

And the best part… It’s 100% FREE.

You can grab the free Cancer Binder Pack by clicking here…

This way you can spend your energy focusing on the important stuff.

Use a Planner  

Cancer is a whole lot of scrambling around.  That’s why you need to focus on caregiver self care at all.  Because time as you know it is going to change dramatically.

There are constant appointments, continuous changes and the “fun” never really stops.  Things are much easier if you know at least where you need to be and which days are going to be insane ahead of time.

Even just a basic outline, so you can plan ahead a bit.

  • Do we need to leave super early?
  • Should I get gas the night before?
  • Will we need extra time because we’ll hit traffic?
  • How many appointments do we have?  1…5?  

I like to use a weekly planner, this way I can look at the entire week in one shot and have some idea of what I am walking into.  My first system, find out the plan the night before and scramble around trying to get myself together, was a lot of additional stress.

Life is much better when you have an idea of where you need to be, what you’ll be doing and you have all the stuff you need ready to go.  

Meal Planning

This sounds simple, but it’s not.  If I don’t figure this out for the week ahead of time, then we eat pizza, Mcdonalds, and any other crap food that a family can afford.  You can’t keep your strength up if your body is fueled with Mcdonalds. Not to mention, even just 2 meals out a week (fast food) is a TON of money these days.

Plan out a few quick and easy 15-minute meals (you can find a bunch of our favorites here…) so you can save money, create nutritious dinners for your family and get the energy you’ll need to withstand the storm.  

Grocery Shopping

Do this online if you can.  Either grocery delivery or grocery pick up.  Time is the one thing in the world you can’t buy more of.  And you’ve probably noticed that you don’t have a whole lot of time for anything anymore (if you haven’t noticed, you will).

Don’t spend the little time you have grocery shopping.

Anything that allows you to save your time, so you can spend it how you want, is a good thing.  Let someone else handle the shopping for you. You just pick it up (or have it delivered) and put it away.  As an added bonus, you’ll probably save a couple hundred dollars (I’ve saved almost $250/week on groceries by not going shopping).  

I only order what I need, rather than “Oh, the kids will LOVE that {insert whatever here}!  You can save big money ordering groceries online. And, you can do it from the couch.  

Make Healthy Meals a Priority

 If you’re going to have enough energy to stay strong and keep fighting hard, you are going to have to focus on nourishing your body.  You can’t keep running if you’re living on Mcdonalds and Chick-fil-A.  

Your body is working harder than normal, a lot harder.  Just fighting through all of this stress is triple the work for your body.  You feel it, I know you do. Even if you’ve done nothing else today but worry, your body has worked hard.

You’re gonna have to give it some nutrients so it can keep fighting for you.   

Start with something easy like this Strawberry Chicken Avocado Salad.  Fresh delicious and most importantly it can be made (including the dressing) in less than 15 minutes. meal.

Consider Trying a Simple Green Smoothie

This may not seem like a strategy for caregiver self care, but bear with me because it is.

Holy Energy (not to mention nutrients)! I’m not kidding.  I read about these and they sounded right up my alley.  

So, of course I had to try it.  I signed up for their free 7-day challenge and almost immediately I was hooked.

These smoothies are amazing, they taste terrific and they are quick and easy to make in the morning (even if you have a crappy blender from Walmart, like I do).  But the energy you get from these smoothies is like, wow!  

I am a serious coffee drinker, like 5 cups a day.  I mean honestly, there is no other way to survive. With these smoothies, I am down to a cup of coffee a day.  I have a smoothie every morning and on the days that I don’t have one, I feel totally off.     

These smoothies have become a huge part of my day.  I wake up looking forward to them every single morning and they give me an incredible boost in energy that lasts the entire day.  (Who here doesn’t need that?) ????‍♀️

And the best part is, they are made with fruit, vegetables, and water, so they are totally natural and full of all the good stuff your body needs. (Hint: Use frozen fruit and get the prewashed package of spinach and kale and throw that in the freezer too.  They are best when they are cold.)

You can check out Simple Green Smoothies here… 

P.S.  Start with the “Beginners Luck” smoothie, it’s my favorite.

Exercise

Is one of the best stress relievers out there and a great way to practice caregiver self care.  Bonus, it’s free!  The problem is, you probably don’t have time to figure out where to add this in your day.  

Robin S. Sharma said it best…“If you don’t make time for exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness.”  

It’s true.  This volcano that has erupted into your life just spewed a lot of stress and overwhelm.  If you don’t figure out how to get some of this stress out of your system, you are gonna crash and burn.

Take a walk, or a run if that’s your thing.  Experiment with stretches, catch a Yoga video on YouTube or grab a program like Aadptive which is an audio-based fitness program that talks you through an entire work out.  (It’s like having your own personal cheerleader walking you through your workout every step of the way) so that you know you’ve got this.  And because it’s audio, with your phone and some headphones… you can do a bunch of their workouts during waiting times at the hospital, the doctor’s office, or while your loved one is napping at home.  

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This was one of the hardest parts of caregiving for me.  When things finally slow down and it’s calm and quiet, that’s when your mind starts racing.  Which is ridiculous considering you’ve probably been dragging through the day completely exhausted and now that it’s time to finally sleep… You can’t.

Talk about frustrating.  

And while you DESPERATELY need that sleep, you either lie awake worrying about the fact that you can’t sleep or you find yourself falling asleep and waking up constantly.  

Sleep is an integral part of caregiver self-care.

These simple tips will help if you’re having trouble sleeping…

Write It Out

Before you try to sleep, unload your mind.  Grab a notebook, or your journal and write down everything you’re thinking about.  

  • Everything you’re worried about
  • Things you need to do
  • Things you don’t want to forget
  • Your To-do list

Writing things out is a great strategy for caregiver self care, and one of the best coping skills for caregiving in general because it allows you to get some of this stuff out of your system.   And when things become calm and quiet, it seems like your mind decides to jump into overdrive. Maybe, because you barely had a moment to breathe all day long.  

Getting this stuff out of your head and onto paper will calm your racing mind, allow you to release some of the stress and the fear and hopefully allow you to drift off for much needed sleep. 

Prepare For Sleep As Much As You Can  

An hour before bed, get in your PJ’s, read a good book, try some soothing heat therapy on your lower back, take a relaxing bath, or have a cup of Sleepytime Tea.  Engaging in calm and quiet activities that promote rest and relaxation will help you set the stage for a good night’s sleep.  

Try a Natural Approach

If that doesn’t work, or you need some extra help in this area… Melatonin has helped me on several occasions get a decent night’s sleep.  

Since your body naturally makes Melatonin (which helps your body prepare to sleep) this is just adding some extra to what you are already producing.  (Note:  If you are taking any medication be sure to check for potential drug interactions… Natural doesn’t always mean safe.)

I know it feels like adding one more thing to an already jam packed schedule is impossible, but taking care of yourself has to be a priority.  Your job as a caregiver is to help your loved one keep going. In order to do that for the long haul, you have to make your wellbeing a priority.

P.S.  How do you keep fighting when you’re exhausted and devastated?  You clear your mind, get some of this stress out of your system and focus on what’s important.  

Take Back Your Life From Cancer is a journal created to help you find hope, perspective and the motivation you’ll need to keep fighting in the midst of the storm. And the best part, it’s free. 

You can grab Take Back Your Life From Cancer here for free…

This post may contain affiliate links.   In order for us to maintain this website, some of the links in the above post may be affiliate links.  This means that you can purchase the products we recommend at no extra cost to you.  We only recommend products or services that we use and love and that we believe will add value to our readers.