Do you look like you feel? Are tears just under the surface? Are you turning down opportunities to go out for fear of being away from your loved one?
Many friends and family members spend so much time worrying about and caring for their loved one that they forget to take care of themselves. It is critical for you to maintain your own health and well being because it makes you better equipped to take care of your loved one. Proper diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise is important for all of us and more so when someone you love has cancer.
The following are suggested strategies for taking care of yourself:
- Participate in physical activity at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes. Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness. If finding time to exercise is a problem, try to incorporate it into your usual day (take the stairs, walk, play with your kids).
- Get enough sleep so that you feel rested in the morning - try for at least 7 hours every night.
- Eat balanced, nutritious meals (5 servings of fruits and vegetables). Take time to sit down and eat your meals. Do not skip meals.
- Take care of your own physical health (get regular medical check-ups: blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer screening).
- Participate regularly in recreational/leisure activities.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water daily.
- Limit alcoholic beverages. Avoid using alcohol, medications/drugs, or cigarettes to calm your nerves.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Set limits to your life. Learn to say NO! Make choices.
- Find a hobby that takes your mind off your worries for a while: fishing, boating, painting, woodworking, knitting, or reading.
- Take long, warm baths.
- Look for things to laugh about.
- Get a massage.
- Wear colorful clothes; seize every opportunity to dress more "up" than "down."
Give yourself permission to take a break from worrying and caregiving.
- Go out for lunch or dinner with a friend or relative.
- Go to the movies, a play, or a concert.
- Find a place to cry and let out the grief and worry.
- Read non-stressful books and magazines.
- Do crosswords, puzzles, jigsaws, garden - anything that diverts your mind.
- Telephone friends, go visit someone you like.
- If possible, stay at work as long as you normally would. Try not to start leaving work or interrupting your work.
- Take long walks and enjoy the sounds, smells, and beauty of nature.
Part of the success of taking a break is ensuring that your loved one is content and cared for in your absence. If you can relax during your time away, then the break will work wonders for you.
Identify Areas Where You Need to Take Better Care of Yourself
Be sure to get enough rest. Your body needs rest to face everyday challenges. As you adjust to life after your loved one's diagnosis of ovarian cancer, your sleep patterns may be disrupted. If you find that you can't get to sleep or can't stay asleep, seek out advice from your doctor about what to do.
If you have trouble sleeping try:
- Reading a book before bed may relax you and help you to fall asleep faster.
- Avoid loud noises and turn on slow, relaxing music.
- Avoid alcohol. A few glasses of wine may make you drowsy at first, but it will cause you to be wakeful during the night.
- Avoid caffeine and sugar before bed.
- Try to maintain a regular sleeping schedule.
- Don't take frequent naps during the day.
- Use your bed only for sleeping (don't work, watch TV, eat in bed).
- Exercise during the day, but avoid exercising two hours before bed.
- Some prescription drugs can cause sleep problems. Consult your doctor if you think a medication is causing your sleep problem.
- Make your room a good place to sleep: use room-darkening shades and keep it at a steady temperature.
Regular check-ups by your doctor, dentist, and optometrist are essential parts of maintaining your health. Visits with such doctors also help in identifying health problems in their early and most treatable stages. Going to the doctor also helps to verify that the positive things that you are doing to help your health are working.
Call your doctor and schedule an appointment. Find out how often you should be going to the doctor, as this changes with age. Write reminders to yourself on your calendar to schedule appointments.
Think of some of the ways that you have taken care of yourself in the past (before your loved one was diagnosed with cancer) and try to start doing them again.
Balancing multiple demands
Many family members need to continue working when their loved one is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This may cause you to experience competing demands and distress. Work is a financial necessity and/or a source of satisfaction for many, yet the responsibilities of caring for and supporting a loved one often conflict with responsibilities at work. People who strive to do both well can feel caught in the middle.
How can I cope with competing demands?
The following tips offer ideas and resources that can help you manage your responsibilities efficiently and balance both work and the caring roles more effectively:
- Look in the personnel manual or other human resources publication to find out your company's policy on caregivers. Does it offer benefits or services that could help with your situation?
- Talk with your work supervisor about your issues. It is better he/she knows the reasons for your late arrivals or seeming preoccupation rather than draw his or her own conclusions. Before having the conversation, come up with some strategies about how you will cope with absences and time away from work.
- Ask your employer if there is an employee assistance program.
- Ask your Human Resources or Personnel Department to give you information on the Family and Medical Leave Act. (This law entitles eligible workers a maximum of 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave for family caregiving without loss of job security or health benefits.) There are a variety of restrictions, however, such as company size and the amount of time the worker has been employed.
- Take advantage of flex-time policies if that would help your situation.
- Offer to work a less desirable shift or be willing to make up time taken for caregiving by working days or shifts when most people want to be off.
- Check for information and referral resources in your workplace.
- Consider job sharing or working part time if possible.
- Avoid mixing work with time with your loved one. Do your best to avoid interruptions and distractions at work from your loved one's health issues. If you need to make phone calls or search the internet for information related to your loved one's needs, do it on a lunch break.
- Manage your time. When you must take time off for caregiving, set priorities and accomplish the most important things first.
- Delegate responsibilities when you can. Pace yourself, as these demands may extend over a prolonged period of time.
- Accept help when you need it. Consider community resources for yourself and your loved one.
- Get all the support you can from family members, friends and community resources.
- Take care of your own needs. Take a break when the pressure gets too great.
- Be sure to thank those at work for the consideration and assistance you receive.
Contact the following organizations for more information:
- The Family Caregiver Alliance has information helpful to caregivers. Their website has a resource center that offers practical information: www.caregiver.org
- The AARP website - Caregiving Section: www.aarp.org
- The Family Care Research Program website: www.cancercare.msu.edu
Why time management?
Ovarian cancer and treatment related activities are often overwhelming and require much time of family members and friends who are juggling multiple roles. It is important that you manage your time wisely so that you can carry out these multiple roles and maintain your own health.
Managing time effectively puts you in control of your life. If you get a handle on how you spend your time, you'll work smarter, have more time to get things done in your multiple roles, and enjoy life more with less stress.
How do I cope with all the different demands on my time?
Here are some tips on how to save time and reduce stress:
- Know how long it takes to complete tasks. Take advantage of small bits of time. Set priorities, delegate, or ask others for help.
- Focus on one task at a time.
- Create a manageable list of things to do each day. Check off tasks as you complete them so you can see your accomplishments.
- Make a weekly schedule of tasks that need to be done.
- Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into small ones.
- Set and follow priorities. What are your real priorities each day? Make your lists in order of priority and start with the high priority tasks. Other things can be delayed or put off.
- Set aside an hour a day to make phone calls and check e-mail.
- Set aside time each week to do errands.
- Say "no" to things you do not want to do or that are not really necessary.
- Use your high-energy time of day to work on important tasks so that you are in charge of your day.
- Establish routines and stick to them.
- Some time will be spent on things beyond your control. This is just a necessity.
- Delegate what you can to others; you do not need to do everything.
- Ask for help when you need it; accept help when others offer.
- Set time limits for tasks.
- Don't waste waiting time. Use that time.
- Some time each day must be spent for you.
Recognizing When You're Stressed Out
Too much stress can lead to more serious health problems. Learn to recognize signs of stress in yourself, and contact your healthcare provider if you experience the following on a regular basis:
- Denial about the disease and its effect on your family member.
- Anger at your loved one.
- Social withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought you pleasure.
- Anxiety about facing each day and the future
- Depression and feeling unable to cope.
- Exhaustion making it impossible to complete necessary tasks of the day.
- Sleeplessness caused by constant concern and worry.
- Irritability that triggers negative responses and reactions in others.
- Lack of concentration making it difficult to perform usual daily tasks.
- Health problems which take their toll, both mentally and physically - worsening chronic disease, colds.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a vague feeling of uneasiness, unpleasant feelings, or fear resulting from expecting some bad news or harm. Anxiety can happen to anyone, but family members and friends facing the serious illness of a loved one may get anxious more easily than others. Anxiety and fear are common and normal feelings when coping with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
People who have anxiety say they feel uneasy, tense, apprehensive, wary, or agitated. They have a feeling of restlessness, uncertainty, and are fearful or have a sense of dread or impending doom. People tremble, sweat, have rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, or can feel their heart pounding in their chest. In addition, some people experience shakiness, or difficulty falling asleep. Sometimes people may become overly fearful and may no longer cope well with their day-to-day life.
Coping with anxiety
No two people experience anxiety in the same way. Here are tips other people have found helpful:
- Try to identify what "triggers" your anxiety.
- List coping strategies that have helped you in the past.
- Talk with others, such as in a support group, about your anxiety.
- Increase pleasurable, distracting activities such as listening to your favorite music.
- Use relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing or guided imagery (picture a pleasant scene in your mind).
- Be around others as much as possible, if this is relaxing.
- Use prayer or other types of spiritual support, such as meditation.
- Talk with your doctor or nurse about prescribing medicine to help reduce your anxiety.
- Use relaxation tapes.
- Express feelings and concerns to others.
- Limit your caffeine intake by decreasing your intake of coffee, caffeinated colas, tea, and chocolate.
- Ask your doctor for a counseling referral if these tips are not helpful.
Family members and friends can help you with anxiety
- Have family members and friends help you with relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or visualizing pleasant scenery.
- Ask family members and friends to help you with situations or chores that you've identified as stressful.
- Ask family members and friends to bring home books from the library or bookstore about teaching relaxation exercises or imagery.
Talking with others about your anxiety
- Be open and honest about your feelings and concerns with your family members.
- Try to describe your feelings when you're experiencing them (racing thoughts, lump in your throat, nausea, shortness of breath, dizzy or scared).
- Ask your family members and friends how your anxiety is affecting them.
Call your doctor or nurse if you experience any of the following problems:
- Panic attacks.
- Problems with anxiety that last beyond 2 weeks.
- Persistent fearfulness.
- Shortness of breath that lasts beyond 2 weeks.
- Shakiness, agitation or restlessness that lasts beyond 2 weeks.
- Heart racing and beating hard.
- Excessive sweating.
- Persistent problems sleeping or getting to sleep.
- No relief after trying suggestions.
Managing Depression and Sadness
What is depression and sadness?
Depression is sadness that happens in response to an event or due to changes in your body chemistry. Depression is sadness that is greater than normal, lasts two weeks or more, and greatly impacts your daily life.
Recognizing depression and sadness
People describe depression as the darkest time in their life. Many people report crying spells, or problems with sleep (either sleeping all day or not sleeping enough). Others describe problems with eating (too much or not enough), feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, or even feeling like they want to hurt themselves. People may have trouble experiencing any pleasure or interest in daily life, and they may not want to talk to family or friends.
Depression is not the same as an occasional, short-lived period of sadness. In depression, these low feelings are severe, and stay for two or more weeks.
The causes of depression and sadness
Depression can occur as a result of specific events, such as a loved one being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It can also be caused by medications, or fatigue, or from chemical changes in the brain. Generally, most people can cope with short-term feelings of depression. Persistent depression (greater than two weeks) should be evaluated by a healthcare provider for possible counseling and/or medication.
Coping with depression and sadness
Every person uses different approaches when they are depressed and sad. Here are some tips other people have found helpful:
- Try controlled breathing and relaxation exercises; these help release mood-enhancing substances from the brain.
- Express your feelings through journal writing or creative expression (dance, cooking, exercise, painting or music).
- Avoid alcohol consumption; it can make you feel more depressed.
- Try to get enough sleep at night; avoid napping during the day.
- Try to identify something that brings you pleasure every day.
- Be with other people as much as possible, if this helps you relax.
- Participate in regular, routine exercise. Exercise has been shown to improve mood and well-being.
- Make an appointment with your doctor and tell him/her exactly how you feel and that you need help.
- Make a list of all the medications you take; show this to your doctor or nurse. Some medicines may have to be stopped or changed.
- Join a support group. This can help relieve the isolation that is often felt by those who are depressed.
- Make an appointment with a counselor, pastor, priest or psychologist.
- If medicines have been ordered for your depression, take them as directed.
Family members and friends can help you
- Ask family members and friends to talk with you about what you're going through.
- Ask family members and friends to engage in enjoyable activities with you.
- Ask family members and friends to stay with you during difficult times. Sometimes just having someone there with you is enough.
- Ask family members and friends to help you with your daily needs until you are able to care for these on your own.
- Ask family members and friends to help you with situations or chores that you identify as stressful, such as going to your doctor visits, writing out bills, or helping with household chores.
- Ask family members and friends to notify your doctor or nurse for you when needed.
Talking with others about your depression and sadness
- Try to describe your depression and how it affects you.
- Ask your family members and friends for ideas to help you deal with your depression
- Be open and honest about your feelings with your family members.
- Seek peer-to-peer support. Contact your loved one's cancer center or the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition at 1-888-OVARIAN (1-888-682-7426) for referral.
Call your doctor or nurse if you experience any of the following for more than two weeks:
- Depressed mood every day for most of the day.
- Very little interest or pleasure in most activities nearly every day for most of the day.
- Noticeable weight loss or weight gain - or a major change in appetite.
- Sleep disturbance: not being able to get to sleep, waking early, or being very sleepy.
- Feeling agitated, or feeling slowed-down.
- Feeling excessively tired or lacking in energy.
- Feeling worthless or guilty.
- Feeling unable to concentrate or make decisions.
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness.
If you ever have feelings (or actions) that you want to hurt or kill yourself or others, call your doctor immediately, or call a national suicide hotline at:
- 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
- 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)