Because Cancer Impacts Loved Ones as well as Patients
Taking care of a loved one can be extremely rewarding. It can also be stressful. Too often, family caregivers are so focused on the patient’s needs they ignore their own.
The Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center makes supporting family caregivers a priority. Caregivers can use our support services, from the fitness center to classes like yoga and Tai Chi. And once a year, the Community Cancer Center hosts the Caregivers’ Quality of Life Retreat.
This free event, first held in 2013, celebrates the role of caregivers while also giving them tools to help take care of themselves. “From the start, our hope was not just to have our caregivers feel good for a day, but to help them make lasting changes,” explains Psychosocial Services Coordinator Nancy Hagensick. With that in mind, the retreat includes activities to enhance quality of life along with helpful information presented specifically for caregivers.
“We’ve introduced people to yoga, meditation, music therapy and mind-body skills,” says Hagensick. “Plus we talk about things like how to use humor as a way to cope, and the benefits of increasing physical activity. We also allow time for journaling or walking the beautiful trails at Prairiewoods Retreat Center.”
Jim Kovarik attended one of the first retreats. The caregiver for his wife Janet, Kovarik recalls the retreat as a good place to learn techniques to deal with the stress of caregiving, as well as to remind you to take care of yourself. Says Kovarik, “It was an opportunity to get outside yourself and see you’re not alone in going through these things.”
At the start of the retreat, attendees are asked to indicate their level of distress and identify problems they’re experiencing, such as being torn between work and family responsibilities. Patients and caregivers are encouraged to work together on an action plan to improve their quality of life. Hagensick follows up by phone 30 days after the retreat to measure improvement. “The average distress score at the start of the retreat was a six on a scale of zero to ten,” says Hagensick. “A month later, the average distress level dropped to two.”
Kovarik says his wife was very conscientious about taking care of herself and making the most of the time she had left. The two of them had started getting massage therapy even before her diagnosis and increased the frequency after she became ill. Janet Kovarik passed away in January 2014, but Jim Kovarik continues to come to the Community Cancer Center for massage therapy. He says, “The people there have been very welcoming to me and the retreat has helped me make lasting changes.”
In addition to the annual retreat, the Community Cancer Center offers evening “mini retreats” throughout the year.
“Caring for yourself is part of caring for your loved one,” says Hagensick. “It can actually allow you to be a better caregiver.”
For more information about the Caregiver’s Retreat, call Nancy Hagensick at (319) 558-4876.