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Preventing Kidney Cancer Caregiver Burnout
As a caregiver to someone with kidney cancer, you give your all, every minute of the day. But that devotion can be emotionally and physically draining. Learn how to cope.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Kevin O. Hwang, MD, MPH
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As a caregiver to someone with kidney cancer, you give your all every minute of the day. But that devotion can be emotionally and physically draining. Research shows that caregivers for people with a serious illness have higher rates of emotional problems, physical illness, and even earlier death.
"When a loved one has a chronic disease, such as kidney cancer, there is a very high risk of caregiver burnout," says Jaime Nuttoli, a licensed mental health counselor at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. "Physical and emotional stress can wreak havoc on the caregiver in many ways."
Kidney Cancer Care: Emotional and Physical Impact
“The caregiver is often the closest source of emotional support, strength, and comfort for the person with kidney cancer. With all the fear, anger, and sadness that can occur in such a situation, the caregiver can become overwhelmed," says Nuttoli.
Research shows that up to 68 percent of family caregivers suffer from depression. In addition, the stress placed on the caregiver can cause health problems. "Stress, especially at a prolonged, intense level, can contribute to migraines, gastric problems, and sleep difficulties [for the caregiver]," says Nuttoli. Moreover, "caregivers may be more vulnerable to life-threatening problems like heart attacks."
Studies show that caregivers for family members with a serious, chronic illness, like kidney cancer, take less time to take care of their own health issues. One study found that a spouse under stress from caregiving has a 63 percent higher chance of death within four years than a non-caregiving spouse.
Kidney Cancer Care: Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
There are specific symptoms associated with caregiver burnout. If you can relate to any of the following statements, you may be giving too much of yourself and should make some changes.
- You have no energy and tasks you once did with little effort are now exhausting.
- You are constantly fighting off colds and haven't had time to see your doctor.
- You are always irritable and impatient. You feel guilty about being angry and don't know how to deal with it.
- You feel helpless and you are getting little satisfaction from caring for your loved one.
- You feel like things are out of your control, and you are running out of hope.
Kidney Cancer Care: Preventing Caregiver Burnout
Your loved one fighting kidney cancer needs you. You can prevent your own burnout by trying the following:
- Take care of yourself:Caregivers often feel guilty if they take time for themselves. It is crucial, however, to find time to do things for yourself. “Don't lose yourself in the caregiver role," says Nuttoli, who advises caregivers to see their own doctor, eat properly, get enough rest, and exercise.
- Educate yourself:Learn as much as you can about kidney cancer. The more you know the better caregiver you will be. Being the best advocate for your loved one will make caregiving more rewarding.
- Get emotional support:"Emotional support — whether from family and friends, a qualified therapist, a primary care physician, or a support group — is very important. Sometimes the emotions of it all don't surface right away, and difficult issues may arise over time," says Nuttoli. Sharing your feelings with others is the best way to get them out in the open where you can deal with them. Support groups are available for caregivers. The Kidney Cancer Association, the Family Caregiver Alliance, or the AARP can help you find a caregiver support group.
- Ask for help.You don't have to do this alone. Ask friends or relatives for help. Take a rest and let someone else take over for awhile. "It may feel like you are abandoning your loved one by going out for two hours or getting someone else to provide transportation to an appointment," says Nuttoli, "but it is necessary and reasonable to take time for yourself."
Adult daycare, transportation assistance, home nursing, and even home delivery of meals may be available to you. Find out about family services provided by your hospital or local community service organizations. If your family member is a veteran, the Veterans Administration may have these programs available — some are free, but others require co-payments.
"Caregivers need to find ways to maintain and feed their physical and emotional strength and develop reserves so they can support their loved one to the best of their abilities, without sacrificing their own health," Nuttoli says.
Your role as a caregiver, while difficult, is a gift of love that should be rewarding. If you are having trouble, take steps to help yourself so that you can better help your loved one.
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