by Bonnie Dockham, Program Director at Cancer Support Community Greater Ann Arbor
Acting as a caregiver can take many forms. It is not necessarily providing physical care such as lifting and dressing like so many tend to believe. Caregiving frequently refers to providing emotional support and love. It can mean providing transportation, meals and maybe financial assistance. No matter the type of care, it typically means that a lot of changes are occurring for both the person receiving and the person providing care.
A study published by the American Cancer Society in 2008 discussed the relationship between caregiving and mental health. The report showed that caregivers who have emotional and problem orientated support were better able to cope with a loved one’s cancer and the pressures of caregiving. Individuals who reported skills in seeking out information also dealt with caregiving with greater ease. These skills are not innate and often times adults need assistance in further developing them. This is where caregiving support programs at the Cancer Support Community come into play.
As a local affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, CSC Greater Ann Arbor has partnered with the University of Michigan to provide a unique program to people dealing with a cancer diagnosis and one care provider. FOCUS is a 6 week series that gathers patients and loved ones for a discussion group that is meant to increase communication and improve coping for both the patient and caregiver. This program was offered as part of a pilot study and results of its effectiveness will be released after the first of the year.
In the meantime, there are a few things that caregivers should always remember. Don’t forget to care about yourself! Allow yourself to accept help from others and give yourself permission to do something fun. Whether it is a simple hug or a night out with loved ones, you deserve it. Reaching out to the health care team or CSC in your community is important too. Connecting with others, asking questions and obtaining support is often just a phone call away. Reach out. It will make you a better caregiver and keep you healthier.