Conference for Caregivers Offers Helpful Advice
What are some of the issues and challenges that caregivers face?
“Depression,” said one caregiver.
“Isolation,” said another.
At the recent Caring for Your Loved One with Cancer: A Conference for Caregivers, the caregivers who gathered for this JamesCare for Life event answered this question. Loss of patience, guilt, uncertainty, overwhelmed, stress and fear were some of the other issues they said they deal with as they care for their loved ones with cancer.
“We’re here to celebrate the role of caregivers,” said conference host Annie Trance, MSW, LISW-S, Program Manager, Psychosocial Oncology, at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.
“You have a really tough job and specific challenges, and today we’ll learn some of the tactical ways to support your loved ones. We’ll also talk about how you need to take time for yourself, you deserve it. You’re always on and you need to learn how to step back and take some time for yourself.”
The conference included caregiver tips and resources, financial planning, ways caregivers can utilize music therapy and yoga to relax and reduce stress, and a healthy cooking demonstration. It ended with a blessing of the hands.
One of the key takeaways from the conference was that it’s important for caregivers to ask for and accept help from others, and take some time for themselves. This strategy will help them avoid burnout and be better caregivers.
“I understand that, but it’s hard,” said Kathy Buckham, who is taking care of her husband, Kirk, who has advanced prostate cancer.
Still, Buckham said she has learned the importance of taking better care of herself as she takes care of her husband.
“I watch the soap operas and I’ve started doing the adult coloring books,” she said, adding she also tends to her garden, and reads her cookbooks and makes some of her husband’s favorite recipes. “I’ve always done these things and it’s important to keep doing them.”
In the financial planning session, William Browning, CELA, discussed why it’s important for a spouse or child (or other primary caregiver) of a cancer patient to have power of attorney for financial matters and healthcare decisions.
Creating a living will is also important. This document details the patient’s desires regarding their medical treatment in case they are no longer able to give formal consent.
“Twenty minutes before your loved one goes in for an operation, you don’t want to be thinking about this,” Browning said, adding that taking these steps early in the cancer journey can make it easier on the patient and their family later.
“You do need to plan for the future,” Trance said. “And sometimes that means talking about difficult outcomes and sometimes families are uncomfortable talking about that. But just because you prepare for the worst outcome doesn’t mean it will happen.”
The OSUCCC – James has social workers and financial planners who can help patients and their families deal with these issues.
The music therapy session was led by Terel Jackson, MMT, NMT-F, MT-BC, a music therapist with JamesCare for Life.
Jackson had one of the caregivers hit a chime.
“Listen to the chime,” Jackson said, as the sound of the chime started off loud and slowly faded. “Let the other thoughts leave your mind.”
There are also apps that play the sounds of a chime, Jackson told the caregivers.
“I’ll try the chimes,” Buckham said. “It’s relaxing and I used to have some chimes in my garden; I’ll have to find them.”
In the yoga session, Jennifer Gebhart, a registered yoga instructor, showed the caregivers some simple yoga movements to help them relax, and led them through a guided meditation designed to reduce stress.
“Take time for yourself every day so you have more to give,” Gebhart said.
Another important message of the conference is that caregivers need to know that others are going through what they’re going through. The conference was a good step, she said. “You should attend something like this and find support groups,” Buckham said. “It helps.”
Buckham knows she should take even more time for herself, but, well, she’s a caregiver and places the needs of her husband above her own. That’s what caregivers do. Buckham finds some time each day to do some of the activities she enjoys, but she’s always close to her husband.
“I feel better when I’m with him,” she said. “I need to be there, with him.”
Further reading: "Caregivers: Remember to Care For Yourself"