Local group provides lifeline to those caring for loved ones with cancer (sponsored) | TheUnion.com
Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union

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Local group provides lifeline to those caring for loved ones with cancer (sponsored)

C.A.R.E. Support Group – for caregivers Meets every Wednesday 3 – 4:30 p.m. SNMH Diagnostic Imaging Center Building 4 Conference Room Free Facilitated by Jeanine Bryant, MS Call 530-274-6654 for information

Cancer Support Group – for those diagnosed with cancer Meets every Wednesday 3 – 4:30 p.m. SNMH Diagnostic Imaging Center Building 3 Conference Room

Facilitated by Linda Meyers, LCSW Call 530-274-6656 for more information

Caring for a loved one coping with cancer can be isolating and frightening. One local group wants others to know that what can feel impossible alone can become manageable in a group.

"We laugh and cry and say things that we could not say anywhere else," one participant shared. "Together we get through the most difficult time of our lives. Together, we are a family."

That "family" is the CARE (Caring and Restoring Emotionally) Support Group for men and women caring for a loved one living with cancer.

Group leader Jeanine Bryant, MS, understands the journey of the attendees on a personal level: She cared for her husband after his cancer diagnosis for 18 months, until he died in 1991.

"At the time, I would have given anything to have a place to go to talk about what was happening in my life," Bryant reflected.

After her husband's death, Bryant went back to school, earning her Master's degree and pursuing a career in counseling.

"I always knew I wanted to find a way to help individuals caring for loved ones. Through CARE, we do just that, offering support for all the emotional aspects of caregiving. We help participants explore their feelings and give them tools. We want them to know they are not alone and there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to feel."

An estimated 1.6 million Americans received a new cancer diagnosis in 2016, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Though the effects of cancer most directly impact the individual, the impact of the disease extends to the relatives or friends who care for that person as well.

The NAC estimates that cancer caregivers spend an average of 32.9 hours a week caring for their loved one, with 32 percent of caregivers providing 41 or more hours of care weekly – the equivalent of a full-time job.

And while the impact of caring for a loved one is profound, the NAC found that just 29 percent of caregivers discussed their own self-care needs with a health care provider.

"Caregiving is not something that people plan on or sign up for," explained Bryant. "It's a situation that sort of plops itself in your lap, totally unexpected. Caregivers are usually overwhelmed, undertrained and uneducated in the beginning. With time and support, comes a sense of control that can help them through."

The CARE group meets weekly (see sidebar for details) on the Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital campus. Each meeting includes a time for attendees to "check in" and share where their loved one is at in their cancer journey.

Bryant also takes plenty of time to encourage each caregiver to reflect on how they are doing — are they sleeping, are they eating well, are they asking for help.

According to Bryant, the earlier caregivers begin attending, the more benefit they will experience.

"The CARE group quite simply saved my life," explained one attendee who wished to remain anonymous. "From the first meeting to the very last, I felt supported and understood and loved."

Group participants say that because others in the group are going through similar challenges, they can understand in a way that friends and family cannot.

"I have a large network of friends and family, but there were feelings and fears that I couldn't share with them," shared one attendee. "I realized that friends, as much as they love you, can only take so much 'cancer' — it is a difficult subject and can be a real downer for conversation. The wonderful people in the support group understand. They are going through the same things, feeling the same feelings and fears that I was feeling."

Bryant encourages all caregivers to watch for signs that they need help. Symptoms of caregiver stress can include problems sleeping; overwhelming or uncontrollable emotions; irritability; and physical symptoms like body aches, tension, nausea, diarrhea, and headaches.

In addition to attending a support group like CARE, Bryant says one of the most important steps caregivers can take is to ask for and accept help.

"You may find help through a home care agency or from friends and family who can help with chores, shopping, or just sitting with your loved one while you work. When someone offers to help, accept it. When you need help, ask for it. Working as a team will lessen the burden on you."

Getting time — even just a few minutes — away from the ailing loved one can help as well.

"Take time to do a hobby or activity. Or, if time is very limited, just get out and walk around the block. Schedule it into your loved one's pain management plan, as a dose of medication for yourself!"

Finally, Bryant says it is important to know your limitations.

"Don't let guilt and doubt get in the way of making the best decision for your loved one and yourself. Caregiving is a huge responsibility. Try to find the right balance in your life that allows you to care for your loved one while caring for yourself!"

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.