Results tagged “Caregivers”

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.

Debra-Ruzensky caregiverBy Debra Ruzensky

In 2013, my role at MD Anderson changed when my husband was diagnosed with stage three diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Now I wasn't just a registered dietitian. I was a caregiver, too.

Seeing a new side of MD Anderson during lymphoma treatment
Every three weeks, my husband was admitted at MD Anderson for five to six days. Each time, I moved into his hospital room with him. I worked here during the day and went up to his room in the evenings. I ate here, showered and dressed here, heated my meals in the family lounge and made my morning cup of coffee here.

It was mentally difficult to "change hats." My eyes and ears were always in tune to his nutrition and the value it plays in treatment tolerance and recovery. Meeting some of the other caregivers on the floor and comparing notes was helpful, but at times it added to my worry and stress. I didn't want to hear any negative stories. I was trying to hold it all together and stay positive.

I had a great support system of family, friends, and coworkers praying and offering to help in other ways. The chapel was a special place for me to quietly sit and pray or just be calm.  Sunday morning masses were also a huge comfort to me.

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.

Martin1314.jpgBy Jennifer Martin

Ever since my husband Steve's melanoma diagnosis two years ago, I have poured my everything into building melanoma awareness. From research to fundraising to sharing our story, we've done it all.

But after all this time, I began to feel worn out. So, in September, when Steve's last scans for his melanoma treatment revealed that he showed no evidence of the disease (NED), we decided our family should celebrate by forgetting about melanoma. Well, at least trying to forget about melanoma.

Taking a step back from melanoma
I stepped back, but not completely away, from melanoma. I'm not sure when I last posted on Facebook about tanning legislation. I can't tell you about the latest research.

Instead, we lived life. We had a new house built. We spent more time with family and friends. Steve and I took several weekend getaways to reconnect as husband and wife. That connection is so important, and it's so easy when dealing with a cancer diagnoses for the relationship to turn into patient and caregiver.

I still read about our melahomies, our friends going through melanoma treatment. But for the most part, I was absent from it all. I felt a little guilty, but I just wanted to forget it all.

Melanoma follow-up appointments: Returning to reality

But now, we're back again. The months passed, and it was time for Steve's three-month check-up. The three-month check-up sounds so routine, so uneventful, so simple. But for Steve and our family, it was anything but.

apple and girl.jpgCaring for a cancer patient can be very rewarding, but it can  be stressful, too. During the past year, some of our experts and caregivers have shared great advice for caregivers.

Check out these blog posts for our most helpful advice for cancer caregivers.

5 health tips for cancer caregivers
When caring for a loved one, it's easy for your own health to take a backseat. But it's essential that you stay healthy so you can provide the best care. Read these tips.

Liz_Hill_112513.jpgBy Liz Hill

When my mom was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, I became her main caregiver. For two years, I cared for her through several surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy. I drove her from our home in Louisiana to MD Anderson, and stayed there with her for weeks at a time.

After my mom died, I felt lost. I kept thinking I needed to be taking Mom's temperature, giving her medicine, sitting with her, holding her hand, something. Mom hadn't even been 70 years old. Watching an exceptionally physically and mentally strong woman just slip away was one of the hardest things I have had to endure.

Coping with losing my mom to melanoma
A few days after my mom's memorial service, I went back to work and tried to keep my mind focused, but it was difficult. After work, I returned home, got in the shower and cried.

But this behavior was so unlike me. I was my mother's daughter. I came from a long line of strong women. I thought I needed to just suck it up and get it together. But I couldn't. No matter how many friends I leaned on, no matter how much I prayed, no matter how much I cried, the sadness just wouldn't go away. After about six months, I just couldn't take it anymore.

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Being a cancer caregiver can be very rewarding, but it isn't easy. As a caregiver, you may experience stress, worry, fear and anger -- among other feelings -- throughout the cancer treatment and beyond. After all, you're busy caring for your loved ones, helping them schedule appointments and making tough decisions. That's why we call caregivers survivors.

We asked a few caregivers to share what they wish they'd have known before their cancer journeys. Here's what they had to say.

You can find light within the dark
"I didn't know, but learned, that the cancer journey will be what you make of it. There's always light within the dark, if you're willing to see it.

Through our darkest times, my fiancé and I learned to communicate more effectively, find joy in the smallest things, and appreciate the daily gift of life. Those happy habits have carried over into our married life and strengthened our bond in wonderful ways: we're more selfless, we take time to express our appreciation, we're much more patient, and we forgive each other quickly. The cancer journey has given us that gift."

-- Katie Narvarte Ozuna, chronic myeloid leukemia caregiver

hands black and white-FB.JPGBy Heather Valladarez, social work counselor

"How do I work, take care of my kids, be a good spouse, and find care for my loved one during the day?"

"I am taking care of my dad throughout the day, but I don't have any time for myself. This is becoming stressful."

These are just some of the situations that bring stress to caregivers for cancer patients.

While the caregiving experience can be extremely rewarding, it can also be very challenging. This so-called caregiver fatigue can be difficult both physically and emotionally.
As a cancer caregiver, you may experience any or all of the following emotional or physical stressors:

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • a lack of energy or feeling tired for long periods of time
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • weight gain, weight loss or other physical symptoms
  • losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

FaithLeonard.jpgFaith Leonard wasn't sad when her son, Shane, left for college. While many of her friends in the same situation shared a tearful goodbye with their children, Faith was happy.

Just a year earlier, Shane had undergone seven weeks of proton therapy treatment for adenoid cystic carcinoma at MD Anderson. Faith and her husband Bill didn't know if Shane would live, let alone attend college.

But with his cancer in remission, Shane was ready to begin his freshman year, and his parents were grateful this day had come.


"We're so thankful that he's well, and that trumps everything else," Faith says. "Because we had such a big problem in front of us, now everything seems easy."


Adenoid cystic carcinoma treatment: caring for her son

It wasn't until she returned home that Faith realized the hole left by Shane's departure.


At a time when most of his peers were exploring their independence and becoming less reliant on their parents, cancer had left Shane with no choice but to become more reliant on his mom and dad. His survival had depended on it.

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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.

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?

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. 

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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.




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