Support from a distance- 5 tips for long-distance caregivers

Helpline ManIn the United States, families are often spread all over—sometimes on opposite coasts or in opposite climates. This can present challenges when someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer and everyone can’t be where they want to be at once.

Often, long-distance caregivers may feel guilty for not being there in person, struggle with coordinating support for their loved-one or worry about emergency situations.  It’s important for these far-away loved ones to remember that they are not alone—In fact, it is estimated that 7 million people in the U.S. are long-distance caregivers. Many of these people are family members of someone with cancer—daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.  Below are a few tips for supporting your loved one and yourself even when you can’t be there physically.

1. Set up a time to talk to your loved one about what they need and be honest about what you are able to do. After the initial cancer diagnosis, the situation may be very busy and stressful. However, once your loved one has started treatment, it is a good idea to have a conversation with them about their concerns and what they need during this time. Although it may be difficult, it is also important to be honest and realistic about what you are and are not able to do due to distance. That way, you or your loved one can find someone else to help in those ways.

2. Get in touch with people who live near or routinely see your loved one with cancer. One of the greatest worries long-distance caregivers often have is that they won’t know when an emergency situation occurs. Exchange contact information with someone living close to your loved one, such as a family member, friend, doctor or neighbor  who can notify you immediately.

3. Plan for an emergency ahead of time. In addition to creating a plan for being contacted in case of an emergency, it is also important to plan who will be able to help your loved one with short notice in terms of an emergency. This way, both you and your loved one will know that they will have immediate support in case of an emergency, even if you are unable to be there in person.

4. Set up a way for all those supporting your loved one to keep in touch. This can help organize what still needs to be done and prevent your loved one from being inconvenienced by too many people around. This can be done in any way that is convenient for your group—phone calls, email threads, social media, or websites specifically designed for this purpose, such as CaringBridge or MyLifeLine.

5. Make sure you care for yourself. All caregivers need to care for themselves as well. It may be easy to forget this when you are a long-distance caregiver because you are not actually seeing your loved one on a regular basis. However, self-care is just as important. Make sure you take time for yourself and realize that it is okay that you are not there in person. You can also call the Cancer Support Helpline anytime for emotional support or refer it to other caregivers in your loved one’s life.

For more information, listen to Cancer Support Community’s radio show on long-distance caregiving and other caregiving resources.

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When the weather outside is frightful

SquirrelSnow, wind, ice, freezing temperatures—all things that will send this Southerner into a blind, snow-hating panic. During the winter months, this is a regular occurrence for me, as I scramble to learn exactly how you’re supposed to cope with a real winter and all of its unpleasantness.

Part of coping with winter is being prepared to ride out winter storms indoors when the roads aren’t safe to travel.  For people who are touched by cancer, this can require some extra preparation to make sure you stay safe, relaxed and avoid illness. Below are a few things to remember on cold, snowy days.

Check your medications
Snow can be hard to predict. What’s supposed to be a “light dusting” can wind up being a three-day ordeal of being stuck indoors with no way to get to your pharmacy or physician’s office. Talk to your health care team to make sure you can have back-up medications prior to bad weather in case you run out during a winter storm.

Have a list of emergency contacts
Create a list of different contacts you can keep on hand in case any need should arise. In addition to having contact information for your health care team, it can also be helpful to have a few neighbors you can call to check on you, make sure your heat is working, your walkway is clear, you have clean water, etc.

Stay warm
This seems like a no-brainer, but for someone living with cancer, staying warm is especially crucial. Several common side-effects can make you more sensitive to the cold, which can increase your risk for hypothermia. To avoid hypothermia, try to keep your head covered with a hat or scarf (even indoors), make sure you have an alternative source of heat in case you lose power and stay hydrated.

Avoid the “winter blues”
A few weeks ago we wrote a blog on avoiding depression during winter months, which you can read here. When you’re snowed in it can be hard to avoid being sedentary, bored or even sad. Find something to pass the time, whether it’s a recreational activity, a good book or a chat with a close friend. Getting plenty light can also help boost your mood, even if it’s not direct sunlight.

If you’re ever snowed-in and need additional support, don’t hesitate to call the Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355 for information on local resources, to get connected to an in-person or online support group, or for emotional support.

Do you have your own tip for staying healthy and safe during bad weather? Weigh in on our Facebook page!

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Rethinking the New Year’s Resolution

new-years-resolution-goal-setting2015 is here. How’s it going with those resolutions?

Well, no judgment here—I myself have not yet hit the treadmill this week, my diet hasn’t made much of a noticeable change, and my monthly coffee shop budget is almost in the red.

For the longest time, I used to shy away from even making New Year’s resolutions at all because I was afraid I’d never reach them anyway. Now, I use this time of year to evaluate, more broadly, the things in my life I can change in order to live healthier and happier. I may not be able to make it to the gym every day or cook only the healthiest of meals, but I can still make an effort to be more active and learn to cook some healthier new dishes.

Around this time last year, I wrote a post on New Year’s resolutions for people living with cancer. If you’re looking to live well in 2015, this is a great place to start—but if you still aren’t a fan of the traditional New Year’s resolution, take a look at some of these suggestions for getting a fresh start this year:

Write down what makes you happy. One time, a friend posted on Facebook an idea she came across for keeping track of life’s little successes. Put out a jar and some slips of paper, and every time something good happens to you during the year, write it down and put in in the jar. Then, open the jar on New Year’s Eve (or whenever you need a pick-me-up) and take a look back at all the positive moments you’ve had. I did this last year, and all kinds of wonderful memories and small victories I had almost forgotten came flooding back upon opening my jar.

Pick a theme instead. Is your New Year’s resolution too rigid? Pick a general theme to focus your habits on instead, suggests U.S. News & World Report contributor Melinda Johnson. For instance, instead of vowing to lose a certain number of pounds or to go to the gym every day, choose a single word, like “strengthen” to guide your efforts throughout the year. Then, make an effort to do things that strengthen your body and mind throughout the year.

Create your mission statement. Your own personal mission statement is something that describes what you really want to get out of your resolution. “People wanting to achieve weight loss should ask themselves, ‘What happens if I don’t change? Why is losing weight important to me?’ The resulting mission statement might be: ‘I want to be a role model for my children, an extraordinary parent who has the energy, health and stamina to support them in their dreams,’” writes NY Times blogger Tara Parker-Pope.

Do you have a resolution for 2015? What steps are you taking to fulfill it? Weigh in on our Facebook or Twitter page!

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5 ways to beat the winter blues

snowmanThe winter months can often be difficult for many people. With longer nights and colder weather, individuals may feel down more often. This can be an especially difficult challenge when you are also dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Here are some tips on how to beat the winter blues:

1. Eat a healthy diet. Often, people will turn to foods that are high in fat, carbohydrates, and sugar when they are feeling down. Although “comfort foods” that fit this category can be helpful at times, they can also make you feel lethargic if eaten regularly, possibly making the winter blues even worse. Eating healthy can also give you the chance to buy new foods, try new recipes, and spend time thoughtfully putting together a meal. This can be a good idea if the winter weather keeps you in the house but you are looking for a new activity.

2. Get regular exercise. During the winter months, exercise often seems like the last activity you want to do. Staying in bed or under warm blankets may seem more appealing, but exercise is a great way to stay active, release anxiety, and set and reach goals. Exercise can also help you get in a new, recreational routine to follow after all of your responsibilities are completed for the day.

3. Start a new routine. In addition to exercise, starting a new routine with a different activity or practice can also be helpful in dealing with the winter blues. You can sign up for a yoga or meditation class, pick up an activity such as painting or journaling, or even just set some time aside to read a portion of a good book every day. By setting a routine, you can create activities you look forward to doing every day after you are done with work, school, or other responsibilities.

4. Make plans to see friends or family regularly. The winter months also include many holidays. For some, these can be an energizing way to see family and friends. However, others may find holiday get-togethers stressful or tiring. If you don’t feel up to attending holiday get-togethers, it may be easier to make plans to spend time with one friend or family member at a time so you don’t feel lonely by yourself or overwhelmed with a large crowd.

5. Get plenty of sunlight. Though taking a moment to go outside can be more than a little unpleasant during the cold winter months, spending a few moments in the sunlight can improve both your mood and your health. Exposure to sunlight increases your body’s levels of vitamin D, which strengthens your bones, muscles and immune system. Light also helps your brain produce more serotonin, which in turn helps to boost your mood. If you are unable to go outside, consider adding more lights inside your home.

Although the winter months may be difficult for those facing cancer, it is important to remember steps to care for yourself. If you find yourself feeling especially sad or depressed, please contact your health care team. For additional support, you can call the Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355 to speak with a licensed mental health professional who can arrange a brief online survey to help you identify areas of distress in your life, as well as offer you support and resources to help you cope with the winter blues.

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6 tips for avoiding a workplace illness this winter

sick at work

Between having allergies in the summertime to catching a cold during the winter, the chances of randomly coming into contact with someone who sneezes or coughs near you are extremely high. Take that same scenario into the workplace and catching your coworker’s cold can often feel inevitable. According to a study by Staples, about 90 percent of office workers went to work sick in 2012, even though they knew they were ill. For anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer, being around people who are sick with a winter cold or flu can be dangerous. Below are some tips to avoid catching a cold from your coworkers—and others—this winter.

1. Wash your hands

The tried and true statement repeated over and over again in primary school still applies today. In order to avoid recontamination, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet instead.

2. Hand sanitizer is your best friend

Keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer at the front of the office, the break room and at your desk is a subtle reminder of the importance of keeping your hands clean.

3. Don’t touch your face

For any woman who wears makeup, this is a no brainer. Touching your nose, eyes or mouth with your fingers just spreads germs. Every time you touch your mouth or nose you’re transferring bacteria and viruses between your face and your hand. “Self-inoculation” is one of the most common ways that germs wind up spreading from sick people to frequently-touched surfaces.

4. Ask your doctor about the flu shot

Many doctors stand by getting the shot because it’s your best chance at not getting the flu. Access to flu shots are increasingly growing too, from your local pharmacy like CVS to your local department store like Target. Be sure to talk to your doctor before getting the flu shot. If you are unable to get vaccines because of your treatment, try to encourage your coworkers to get their flu shot to help you avoid contracting the virus.

5. Use disinfecting wipes on commonly shared items

Some commonly shared items include your phone, desktop, computer, keyboard and mouse, copy and fax machines, elevator buttons and break room items such as coffee pots, microwave buttons, sink area and table top.

6. Stay at home if you feel sick

With the option of teleworking offered at many jobs today, there’s no excuse to still come into work knowing you’re sick.

Click here for more resources on living healthy with cancer.

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