Coping for caregivers helps everyone

First Byline: 
Jonathan Vickery - Staff Writer

The support, love and encouragement of loved ones play a critical part in the recovery for breast cancer patients.
"Caregivers are a great support network," said Lynda Bechtold, a Barnwell breast cancer survivor.
Sharon Sinclair of Barnwell said it's important to have that support, whether it's a ride to a treatment, cooking a meal or just talking. "That made a whole lot of difference for me," said Sinclair.
Ernestine Broomfield of Martin agreed saying the support of her family, friends and church helped her keep a positive outlook. On the day she had reconstructive surgery her doctor asked why she was smiling. She responded: "I'm blessed."
Barnwell survivor Marjorie Morris encourages caregivers to not get upset if their loved ones don't have an appetite, but it is important for survivors to eat so they can gain strength.
Survivors agree it's not really what is said or done that's important. It's all about simply being there for the patient.
"Just be there," said Myrtle Smoak of Barnwell. "Give the person encouragement."
Patricia Chavis of Blackville helped her daughter, Emma Agidius, during her battle with cancer, including emotional support. "I said, ‘Honey (the doctors) are going to fix it,'" said Chavis. "They've got so much new (technology)."
While it's important for family and friends to step up and help their loved one going through breast cancer, "remember that caregivers need attention too," said Claudia Peeples, a Barnwell survivor. "It's a family illness that affects everyone. People tend to forget that."
According to the American Cancer Society's website, caregivers often focus on the patient while neglecting their own needs.
The ACS suggests caregivers do several things to tend to their own needs: seek support from family and friends in caring for the patient, exercise, maintain a healthy diet, seek spiritual support (religious activity, prayer, journaling, or meditation), enjoy recreational time with friends socially and get help from a trained mental health professional if needed.
For more on being a caregiver, including how to make health decisions and how to cope, visit www.cancer.org.

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 Coping Checklist for Caregivers

Caring for someone who is sick, taking on new responsibilities, and worrying about the future can be exhausting at the very least -- and can quickly lead to burnout. When you are busy caring for the person with cancer, who is taking care of you? Check out these lists to identify strengths and weaknesses you can build on or improve.
Healthy ways to cope. Take a moment to look at the statements below, which describe some healthy situations and ways of coping. They'll give you an idea of how well you are holding up, and maybe some thoughts about where you need to make a few changes to care for yourself. The more of these strategies you can use, the better. If you don't already use all of these, look at ways you can start adding those that appeal to you. They can help you expand and strengthen your coping skills.

• I have a supportive family around me.
• I pursue a hobby or project for work, church, or my community.
• I take part in a social or activity group more than once a month.
• I am within 10 pounds of my ideal body weight for my height and bone structure.
• I use relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation at least 5 times a week
• During an average week I exercise at least 5 times for 30 minutes or more.
• I eat a well-balanced, wholesome meal 2 or 3 times during an average day. (A balanced meal is low in fat and high in vegetables, fruits and whole-grain foods.)
• I do something enjoyable "just for me" at least once during an average week.
• I have a place where I can go to relax or be by myself.
• I set priorities and manage my time every day (such as deciding what tasks are most important, how much I can and can't do, and by getting help when needed.)
You can find more tips and ideas in our pieces called What it Takes to Be a Caregiver and What You Need to Know as a Cancer Caregiver, or you can call the ACS at 1-800-227-2345 for free copies.