Caring for Our Caregivers - Virginia Cancer Specialists

Virginia Cancer Specialists Practice Blog

November 26, 2019
Virginia Cancer Specialists » VCS Practice News » Self Care » Caring for Our Caregivers – Virginia Cancer Specialists

Thanksgiving in the US is celebrated in many ways—coming together with family and friends, honoring food and cultural traditions, and, typically, giving thanks.

In November we would like to give thanks and support to our Caregiver community!

No two patients are alike and, therefore, no two caregivers operate the same either.  However, we do witness quite frequently feelings of stress and helplessness they express.  It stands to reason—by definition, caregivers care about the patient a great deal, yet oftentimes are unable to take away their pain, properly nourish them, and manage their emotional stress.

VCS provides our patients with access to experts to help them and their caregivers navigate the cancer care journey together.  Today, we bring the experience of two of these experts, a registered dietitian and licensed clinical social worker, to share their thoughts and best tips for positive patient/caregiver cooperation.

Shelley Maniscalco, MPH, RD on helping to nourish the patient without creating additional stress and tension:

Food is central in providing care to a family member or friend.  In fact, in many cultures, food is love and, let’s face it, caregiving is love as well.  However, while many will express their love via food, sometimes it can be too much and causes strain.

  • Try not to make eating a battle of wills. It’s important that the patient understand that eating is part of their treatment. But, ultimately, the patient has to be the one to choose whether they can eat, what they can eat, how much they can eat, and if they can keep food down.
  • Help the patient by starting with them. Find out what they feel like they can eat—what types of foods, consistencies, etc.—and go from there.  Oftentimes, there will be a way to boost the nutrition in what they want to eat and they can keep it down—a true win, win.

5 tips on feeding a patient with cancer:

  1. Offer suggestions and options, but try to refrain from giving orders. Food “rules” can hinder more than they help in many cases.
  2. Ask before preparing food, since desires and perceptions toward food can change rapidly for a cancer patient.
  3. If the patient is experiencing nausea, make sure that you are preparing food away from them and letting it cool down before serving to cut down on odors.
  4. If liquids work better than solids, go with that. If planned well, a patient can get adequate calories and be well nourished with liquids.
  5. Be patient if they only have a few bites or if their tastes suddenly change.

Tracy Tierney, MSW, LCSW, works with caregivers to help cope with the stress of caring for a loved one with cancer.

We are grateful for all of the caregivers who help take care of our patients. Providing care to a loved one who is going through the cancer care journey can be both rewarding and challenging. For some, caregiving comes naturally. Others might not have considered caregiving as a strong personal skill, but suddenly find themselves in that role.  Caregivers have a wide range of responsibilities that they assist patients with:  providing support with day-to-day activities, hands-on physical care, and emotional support. Challenges can arise from the physical and emotional stress of caregiving. It may be difficult for loved ones to accept care and support. A caregiver might have their own health issues that make caregiving difficult. Those in the caregiving role often set aside their own needs to provide the care and support that their loved one requires. The importance of self-care cannot be stressed enough: be sure to keep up with your own healthcare needs, eat healthy meals, get enough rest, exercise, and make time for relaxation.

Other self-care strategies to be aware of include:

  • Ask for help- Generally, the family/friends who offer to help, want to. Learn to accept help from others, even if it is a simple task that will lessen your stress.
  • Take a break- Find the time to do something for yourself. Commit to taking 15-30 minutes each day to do something relaxing (take a nap, go for a walk, listen to music, spend time with a friend, or sit quietly and focus on breathing).
  • Talk to a professional- VCS Social Workers meet with caregivers to help with stress management and to develop effective coping skills.
  • Connect with others- You are not alone. Join a caregiver support group to learn how others manage caregiver stress and learn resources from others. There are groups that meet in person, by phone, or online.
  • Release your emotions- It is okay to cry. In an effort to protect one another, caregivers often hold in their emotions when they are around their loved one. Releasing your feelings with your loved one can relieve stress for both of you and will allow open and honest communication.