Last updated: May 17, 2008
breast-cancer-caregiver-tips
A tired, sick caregiver isn't all that much help.
(DON HAMMOND/DESIGN PICS/CORBIS)
If you have breast cancer, you may be tempted to worry about the people caring for you, whoever that may be. Try not to; you've got enough on your plate. Instead, pass on these four tips to the caregiver in your life.


Caregiver Tip No. 1: Take care of yourself first
All too often, caregivers deny their own needs. It's admirable, but it doesn't work. Caregivers who ignore themselves wind up sick, depressed, burned out, and no good to anyone. To prevent that, if you're a caregiver, carve out some time in each day (or at least each week) for yourself. Make time for things like exercise (still the world's best stress-buster), eating a decent meal, and favorite activities—reading, music, hobbies, sports—even if it's for just a short while. That means planning ahead of time, since waiting till the chores get done never works. Let's face it, there are always more chores.

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Caregiver Tip No. 2: Don't help too much
Some people have trouble being taken care of. Being on the receiving end of a caregiver's efforts makes them feel silly, like they're being a burden. Caregivers should give their patients space. It's often the little things—cleaning up the living room, say, so a woman recovering from surgery has a place to rest during the day—that help most.



Caregiver Tip No. 3: Keep your sense of humor
Sure, cancer is a serious matter, but the whole process is a little crazy, laughable, and absurd. When the December holidays rolled around the year that Kerry Apicella, 62, of New York City, was in breast cancer treatment, her husband Rich decided she should wear a bright pink wig to her office holiday party. "He took me out for lunch one day and we shopped for [the wig], which was great fun," she recalls. It was goofy, and she loved the way it shocked her coworkers: "I got more compliments on that wig than I've ever received in my life."

Caregiver Tip No. 4: Don't do it alone
Martyrs don't make good caregivers. Anyone who tries to shoulder the burden alone is well on the way to burnout. Maybe there are friends and neighbors who'd feel better knowing they'd made a contribution through meals, visits, or transportation to and from doctor's appointments.

And while you're divvying up tasks, you might benefit from talking things out a little. "Caregivers often need their own emotional support and can join a support group," says Robin Hershkowitz, program director for women's cancers at CancerCare, a national nonprofit support services group based in New York City. Her organization offers support in person, by phone or online for both caregivers as well as patients.

Marcie Beyatte, a survivor and writer in Orinda, Calif., recommends Marc Silver's book, Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) Through Diagnosis, Treatment, and Beyond (breastcancerhusband.com; Rodale, 2004).