We celebrate many things in November each year and none are more important or powerful than our own families. No matter who you consider family or what yours may look like, your family is the backbone of your life and the people most likely to be there for you when you need it most.
November is also National Family Caregiver Month and it is our absolute honor to spend a few minutes discussing the importance of family caregivers when it comes to our heroes of The Valerie Fund.
“Family members, friends, and neighbors devote countless hours to providing care to their relatives or loved ones. During National Family Caregivers Month, we recognize and thank the humble heroes who do so much to keep our families and communities strong.”
- President Barack Obama, NFC Month Proclamation 2012
A family caregiver is anyone who provides any type of physical and/or emotional care for an ill or disabled loved one at home. Many times, our Valerie Fund kids have their mom and/or dad be their family caregiver but the responsibility is not relegated to parents. Anyone can fulfill the role of a family caregiver be it grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, or even neighbors and close family friends. So long as this person is in the circle of love and hope along the journey of the child's treatment, they can be a family caregiver.
The doctors, nurses, social workers, educational liaisons, and everyone else who works at a Valerie Fund Children's Center are an integral part of a child's treatment and journey through their illness. But when the patients go home they need to have a solid support network who is ready to handle anything that might happen all while bringing as much hope as possible.
You may remember that we spoke about the effects of stress back in October (http://blog.thevaleriefund.org/the-importance-of-emotional-wellness). The blog provided several ways to help manage the additional stress that being a family caregiver can bring. This month we would like to focus on the things caregivers can do that have an immense impact on your life as a family caregiver.
If and when you find yourself in this role, here are some important things to remember and helpful tips:
1. Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone and they know what you're going through! They can also help you out of many situations or answer questions - chances are someone has been in your situation before and figured a way out of it.
2. Take care of your own health. The healthier and stronger you are means the better care you can provide for your child.
3. Accept offers of help from others. They want to help you and ease the burden. It can be difficult to let others in sometimes but your trusted inner circle will want to help both you and your child.
4. Give others specific things that they can help you with when they offer. That will let them feel utilized and ensure you get the help you need. Giving specific tasks also reduces wasted time and energy allowing you to maximize your time and effort.
5. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors. Ensuring accurate information is given and received from both sides means less room for error or incident later on.
6. Take respite breaks as often as you can. Care giving is difficult work and burnout is real. Physical and mental rest is absolutely critical - especially for family caregivers of young children.
7. Watch out for signs of depression and don't delay in getting professional help when you need it. Depression can be difficult to realize from the inside but getting help early can make life easier for everyone in the household. Getting help is not a sign of weakness and is necessary for your child if you feel there might be an issue.
8. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one. Technology is changing with the speed of light and new devices and programs are available every day to help. Phone/tablet apps to teach yoga or deep breathing, video communication apps like Facetime, and mobile learning apps are just a few ways that technology can help.
9. Organize medical information so it's up to date, accurate, and easy to access when needed. Not being able to find the signed form or piece of information you need is additional stress you don't need. Make sure to keep medical files accurate and up to date regularly so you'll have what you need at a moment's notice.
10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is! Being a family caregiver is an extremely difficult job and is often done without the training of nurses. Be sure to take time every once in a while to stop, step back, and remind yourself that you're doing an amazing thing for someone you love and you deserve praise for it.
At the end of the day, the healthier, happier, and better prepared you are as a family caregiver means a healthier and happier patient. We are all here to help our Valerie Fund kids get the treatment, care, love, and support that they need and that starts with yourself. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is necessary to ensure the best possible experience during a child's treatment and time with The Valerie Fund.