Cancer and Health

Self-Care to Care

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Selfishness leads to selflessness when caregivers prioritize themselves

By Melissa Fox

When caring for someone with cancer, it can be easy to dismiss your own internal struggle as inconsequential when compared to the stresses endured by your loved one. The feelings of anger, depression and frustration felt by care providers are valid, however, and can negatively impact your ability to support your person. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.


Stress, anxiety, depression—these feelings are common among personal and professional caregivers.If left unchecked, they can lead to burnout. Here’s how to know if you’re headed down that path:

• Chronic exhaustion, especially when it is uncommon for you

• Feeling like you’re getting sick more often

• Not getting enough sleep

• Feelings of impatience, irritation, or forgetfulness

• Not being able to enjoy things you used to

• Avoiding or withdrawing from friends and family

If you recognize any of the above symptoms in yourself, reach out to family, friends, your church, or support groups like Just Between Us, where you can meet others living the same reality.

Research has shown that caregivers are at increased risk for anxiety and depression. If there comes a time when those feelings become too overwhelming to handle on your own, seek professional help from your doctor or counsellor.


Coordinating life is stressful, and the added responsibilities of caregiving can easily get out of hand.

No one expects you to do it all, so before you reach your breaking point, decide what responsibilities you can download. Hire someone to run errands. Task family and friends with daily chores. Now is the time to lean on your village.

In many cases, financial concerns can be allayed by a conversation with your employer, insurance agency, or the government to find out what provisions are available when a leave is required for medical reasons.


Self care can be dismissed as frivolous, but in truth can be as simple as having a shower everyday or as complex as arranging regular meetups with friends whatever you need to (re)fill that cup.

You may also want to take stock of your own health. Don’t start a new diet or exercise routine (they can be stress-inducing in their own right), but do make an effort to limit junk food, stay hydrated, and invest in your sleep routine.


Often, people taking on the role of caregiver refuse themselves permission to feel anything but stoic. These feelings are normal, and in many ways can be expected.

On your own or with guidance, allow yourself the space to experience each emotion so that you can move on. Whether you’re caring for children, pets, the elderly, or patients, the role of caregiver can be physically exhausting, emotionally draining, and seemingly thankless, so much so that it may take everything in you not to fold under the pressure.

Taking care of your own feelings and limitations will strengthen your ability to be attentive, patient, present, and ultimately, your ability to provide loving care to people unable to care for themselves.

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