Results tagged “Caregiver”

Debra Ruzensky on being a dietitian and caregiver

By Debra Ruzensky

As a registered dietitian at MD Anderson, I know that nausea and other side effects of cancer and treatment make eating difficult, if not impossible. Even though our doctors, nurses and mid-level providers do a great job of educating our patients and caregivers about these possibilities, it is hard to prepare for them.

I didn't realize just how hard it can be, though, until I became my husband's caregiver during his B-cell lymphoma treatment, which included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Diet challenges after chemo
My husband Bob is a fighter and a very compliant patient. But the chemo leading up to his stem cell transplant caused nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and mouth and throat sores. Together, they made it almost impossible for him to eat and drink enough for over a month. He lost about 25 pounds -- mostly muscle. 

exercise shoes

Sticking to an exercise routine while helping a loved one through cancer treatment can be a challenge. That's especially true when you're spending a lot of time at the hospital or clinic.

But you don't have to train for a 5K or go to the gym to burn calories and enjoy the benefits of exercise. Many things you do while you're at MD Anderson count as exercise.

"Any time you're moving around counts," says Carol Harrison, senior exercise physiology technologist at MD Anderson. 

How to achieve the benefits of exercise
Just 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity can reduce your risk for cancer and other diseases. Exercise also can help lower stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression.  


By Lindi Senez

Fighting cancer is truly a team effort. But what happens when the caregiver of the team is no longer the caregiver? What happens when your loved one passes away, and you have to find your new normal?

This is what I've struggled to figure out since my husband, Dave, died one year ago on June 30, 2014.

Saying goodbye to Dave and my role as his caregiver
For eight years, Dave fought hemangiopericytoma, a type of brain tumor, in the most relentless, selfless journey I've ever witnessed. I was his full-time caregiver while continuing to teach high school science, run our family's brain tumor foundation and care for our beautiful, blue-eyed baby boy.

After sleepless nights researching brain tumors and clinical trials that might provide relief, I began to listen when Dave said, "You'll be OK."

Still, I wasn't quite sure how I would find meaning in my life again.

madsen41.jpgBy Matt Madsen

Ever since my wife's large cell neuroendocrine cervical cancer diagnosis, I have felt less known as "Matt" and more known as "Stephanie's husband." I never felt that I had a story to tell. After all, what could I possibly have to say when I wasn't the one fighting cancer?

Coping with my wife's diagnosis

Being the spouse of someone with cancer is hard. As a husband, all I want to do is fix the problem. However, cancer is a problem I can't fix. I can support Stephanie in the best ways I know how. I can be there for her, encourage her and just hang out with her. 

But none of those things make the disease leave her body. Since I couldn't do anything to make the cancer go away, I found myself feeling helpless and worthless. And it showed. It showed in my career, and it showed in my relationships with others.

meditation_2.jpgAt MD Anderson, we consider our cancer caregivers to be cancer survivors, too. After all, our caregivers walk every step of the way with our patients.

We asked the cancer patients, survivors and, of course, caregivers in our Facebook community to share their advice for cancer caregivers. Here's what they said.

bowl of fruit.jpgBy Brittany Cordeiro

As a cancer caregiver, you face unique challenges. The loved one you're nurturing often requires your time, energy and attention, making it hard to focus on your health and wellness.

But an unhealthy caregiver could do more harm than good. Your loved one needs you to stay in fighting shape, so you can provide the care he or she needs. Plus, maintaining a healthy diet and weight helps lower your cancer risks.  

Not sure where to start?

"Research shows that making small changes can lead to bigger diet changes over time and better health," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson.

Try these smart food tips to maintain good health.

Dine out less
"Restaurant foods are usually loaded with extra fat, salt and calories," Herndon says. "Eating out or getting takeout even just a few times a week can cause weight gain over time."


By Karen Mae Perdon

My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, just four years after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.


This year her breast cancer returned. When I heard the news, I kept thinking, why her? Why is this happening again to the person least deserving of this? I thought we had said goodbye to cancer, but I guess God had other plans.


Yet, despite being a bit shocked, I was surprisingly calm about the news. I knew that my job as a nurse here at MD Anderson was not just to help my patients, but also to help my family.


An inspiring first experience with MD Anderson

I haven't always been a nurse at MD Anderson. In fact, it was my sister's breast cancer diagnosis that led me to MD Anderson, first as a caregiver and now as a nurse.


By Liz Hill

When my mom started her chemo treatments at MD Anderson, I had no idea that she and I would completely switch roles.

All through my teen years, struggling with puberty, high school, softball practice, boyfriends, etc., Mom was there. She taught me to keep fighting, and many times she just told me to "suck it up." So, when her journey with melanoma started, I was there for her, pushing her, and yes, sometimes telling her to "suck it up."

I became Mom's main caregiver, while my dad, her husband of 38 years, tended to my mentally handicapped older brother, David. I traveled with Mom to MD Anderson from our homes in Louisiana, and Dad was always there for her when she returned home from melanoma treatment. He became the main cook and maid at the house, and he loved every minute of doting on the love of his life, while I checked in on them throughout the day.

Being able to return home in between melanoma treatments made all the difference in the world to Mom. It lifted her spirits, allowed family and friends to visit, and gave her the ability to be close to the ones she loved most.

But many of my memories from that period are from the ones Mom and I made during our trips to MD Anderson.

Creating memories while caring for Mom 
During one of her hospital stays, doctors told Mom to walk around the nurses' station each day to stay mobile. I knew if I were the one lying in that hospital bed, Mom would have pushed me to get up and walk. So, that is what I did for her. Yes, Mom complained a little, and sometimes I let her skip the walk, but we walked a lot. 

apple and girl.jpg

By Brittany Cordeiro 

When caring for a loved one, your health and wellness may often take a backseat. All your time and energy is devoted to nurturing your friend or family member. You grab fast food at the hospital or skip meals entirely to stay by his or her side.

But as a caregiver, it's essential you stay healthy so you can better care for your loved one. In addition, you'll be in better shape to fight off diseases like cancer.

"Research shows that making small changes can lead to bigger diet changes over time and better health," says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietician at MD Anderson.

Try these tips to maintain good health with a balanced diet.

Tom Barber lung cancer caregiver

by Tom Barber

I have watched several friends and, now, a mother and two sisters at or near death from lung cancer. When my sister passed away this summer, I became a lung cancer patient caring for another lung cancer patient. 

New questions surface when a cancer patient takes care of another cancer patient. During my sister's final phase, the big question for me was, "Am I looking in the mirror?" Would I go through what she was going through?

Approaching my sister, a fellow lung cancer patient

I never avoided my sister because of this fear of looking into the mirror, but I did have to redirect this distraction to make it through the really tough days without affecting my own recovery.

I simply trusted in an approach my father suggested before I went in to say goodbye to my dying mother several years ago.

I asked myself: How would I want to be treated? How would I want her to look at me? How can I make it a little better? How can I be sympathetic but encouraging?

It helps if you believe in miracles. You should. I do. They happen. I am proof. 

CarePages cancer patients

By Daphne Bottos

I come from a huge extended family. My mother is the second youngest of 10 and beyond that, I have 30 first cousins, 20 second cousins and 30 third cousins -- all family members just on my mother's side.
When one of the top 10 gets sick, it's like playing the telephone game with a bunch of children. Interesting twists to stories, odd facts and the 'he said/she said' make it hard to nail down pertinent information.

Back in 1993, my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. I can't imagine the stress it put on my dad when he had to call each of my mother's siblings.

Having to tell multiple people the same news over and over again is tiring and stressful. Having to tell multiple family members that you have cancer is just depressing.
CarePages: an easier way to share cancer updates
Recently, my mom was diagnosed with skin cancer again, but this time, my family is having a much easier time sharing updates. That's because my parents are able to share information with friends and family through a site called CarePages.

Tom Barber lung cancer caregiverBy Tom Barber

I am one of four members of my family that have had lung cancer.

I was a primary caregiver to my oldest sister, who died many years before I received my lung cancer diagnosis.

Unfortunately, my second of two sisters to die of lung cancer said goodbye on June 13, 2013. Goodbye, sis. Love you. I am tired of this stuff.

Secrets of a cancer patient caring for a cancer patient
I have two really vivid and distinct cancer memories. Together, they helped me confront my second sister's lung cancer.

On how to be a cancer caregiver, I recall my father asking me how I wanted my mother to remember me just before I stepped into her ICU room to say goodbye. It was gently instructive and made me gather my courage and put a loving and peaceful look on my face as I approached my dear mother for the last time.

It has given me peace many times that she saw me filled with love for her and positive in my countenance to the end.


Whether you're traveling one mile or 1,000 miles to get here, packing for your first visit to MD Anderson can be a little daunting. After all, you've got a million other things on your mind, and you're not sure exactly what to expect when you get here.

So, we asked several veteran cancer patients and caregivers what's on their must-bring list. We hope their answers -- shared below -- will help making packing for your first visit a little easier.

1.  Patience and calming distractions
A lot of patience. Families are under a lot of stress when they come to MD Anderson, but it's important to understand that you may have to wait a while before seeing the doctor or getting your scans. Bring a book or headphones or something that will help calm you during the wait. 
-- Sandra Bishnoi, breast cancer patient

Michael_Snyder__0013_1 CW.JPGBy Mike Snyder

Early in my cancer journey, my wife Sarah made an interesting observation. "You know what it's like to be a cancer patient," she said. "But you don't know what it's like to have a family member who's a cancer patient."

She was absolutely right. I had an idea of what my family was feeling, but I didn't really know how they felt. I wasn't the one who had a family member with cancer.  

I knew how to be a cancer patient, but not how to be a supporter or caregiver for someone with cancer.

From that point on, and especially after coming to MD Anderson, I've spent a lot of time thinking about cancer's impact on the people who love them.

As patients, we have resources to help us deal with the physical and emotional toll of cancer. But what about our family members, friends and caregivers? What's available to make their journey easier?

Heards first blog CW.JPGBy Bailey Heard

I met Andrew Heard at Baylor University in 2005. He was a seminary student who played on the Baylor football team, and I was a business major who cheered on the coed squad for Baylor.

We were set up on a blind date by mutual friends and married in 2007.

Andrew's history of Hodgkin lymphoma
From the moment I met Andrew, I was blown away by his intelligence and his drive.

One of the many things I found fascinating about him was that he'd already written a book about his cancer experience in high school. 

Andrew was 18 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, which was the size of a cantaloupe in his chest. 

Gibbs living in the moment picture.JPGBy LeAnne Gibbs

Aside from the birth of our daughter, our life has been a flood of awful since my husband Francis was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Yet, under all this runs a strong current of beautiful moments, lessons and experiences.  

One of best lessons that we've gotten in the face of Francis' colon cancer diagnosis has been about living in the moment.

Starting hospice
On April 11, we met with an admissions specialist for hospice care. This was a big step because it felt like giving up. 

This was an equally difficult and simple decision to make.

hands CW how to helop.JPGBy LeAnne Gibbs

My husband, Francis, has stage IV colon cancer. Since his diagnosis, many people have asked how they can help.

Last week I shared advice on what to say and how to support a cancer patient and his or her family.

Here are a few more things we've found beneficial. 

I'm still me even though the cancer will take me/my spouse. Please don't let it take you from me/us.

We've needed time and space to deal with the bad news about Francis's cancer together as a couple and a family.

Gibbs family CW.JPGBy LeAnne Gibbs

It seems that something about cancer affects our filters/manners/politeness, and in an effort to say the right thing, we say exactly the most awkward, wrong thing. I, myself, have been guilty of not knowing what to say or saying the wrong things.

I've perused the web for intelligent advice on what to say or not to say to someone with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

My husband, Francis, has terminal stage IV colon cancer, so I have some experience under my belt as well.

Here's what we've found most distressing or helpful. 

DT with her mom.JPG

Time flies.

I've worked for MD Anderson for over six years now. 

People ask me if I find it depressing to work here and, for the most part, my answer is no. 

I work in the Communications Office, so I usually communicate patient stories, news on cancer research and education on cancer prevention and treatment. 

I'm happy in my job since I'm helping others tell uplifting stories and find information not readily available. 

However, things are about to change. My mother, who's my best friend in the world, has been diagnosed with stage III breast cancer.

Cancer runs in my family
There's an abundance of cancer in my family; almost all my relatives have had at least one form of cancer. Even my mother is a 19-year breast cancer survivor, as well as a bladder cancer and basal cell survivor.

I thought her bout with cancer was over, but I should've known better. You always have to be on guard against the ugly beast, cancer.

Cancer caregiver Do what you can do and that's all.JPGBy Katie Narvarte

Katie is a social worker and caregiver to her fiancé Justin, who has chronic myeloid leukemia. She is a social worker, living and working in Dallas, Texas. Their wedding date is set for next October.

Do what you can do and that's all you can do.

That's my mom's well-known mantra. The phrase used to drive me -- a Type-A control freak -- completely insane. I never understood why my sweet (and oh so persistent) mom, a two-time caregiver and intensive care unit nurse, always repeated this phrase to me.

I finally began to process her words this past January as I cared for my fiancé during his cancer drug trial, the darkest time in our lives.




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