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From Your Navigator

Encouraging Healthy Behaviors in Caregivers of Patients with Cancer

The cancer experience has been described as a moment when healthcare professionals, including navigators, have a window of opportunity to teach and facilitate behavior change toward healthy lifestyles.
April 2016 Vol 2 No 2
Cheryl Bellomo, MSN, RN, OCN, HON-ONN-CG
Oncology Nurse Navigator
Intermountain-Southwest Cancer Center
Cedar City Hospital, UT

The cancer experience has been described as a moment when healthcare professionals, including navigators, have a window of opportunity to teach and facilitate behavior change toward healthy lifestyles. After a cancer diagnosis, survivors often contemplate and express interest in making healthful behavior changes in relation to smoking cessation, nutrition and weight management, exercise, and stress reduction.

Studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle may mitigate the late effects of cancer treatments; prevent new chronic conditions, such as heart disease; and reduce the negative impact of other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, on the patient’s quality of life.

Key Points

  • It is easy for caregivers to lose sight of their own health when caring for a patient with cancer
  • If the caregiver’s health begins to slip, who will care for the patient?
  • The nurse navigator has a unique opportunity to educate patients and caregivers on implementing healthful behavior changes
  • The end of the first cancer treatment is a good time to assess survivors and family members for distress and ensure they have access to support services

Taking Care of the Caregiver

The health behaviors of cancer survivors sometimes need improvement. Family members are likely to have a key positive influence on health-promoting behaviors in patients, such as weight loss, smoking cessation, and the physical activity of survivors.

But what about the healthy behavior of the patient’s caregivers and family members? It is easy for caregivers to lose sight of their own health when they are focused on helping someone else get better. However, if the caregiver’s health begins to slip, who will care for the patient?

A review of health behavior studies shows that positive changes in family members’ health-related behaviors improve their use of cancer screening services, increase physical activity and use of sun protection, and improve their nutrition; other studies, however, have shown that the health behaviors of family members and caregivers are not better than those of the general population.

Nurse Navigators Can Help

The cancer journey, particularly the transition time at the end of a first cancer treatment, can be the most suitable time for oncology healthcare professionals to incorporate health and wellness information into the survivorship plan of their patients for follow-up care.

During this transition time, nurse navigators have an opportune time to incorporate healthful behavior changes into educating cancer survivors, as well their family members and caregivers.

The transition time to survivorship is also a critical period to assess survivors and family members for distress, and to ensure that they have access to support services and strategies to reduce their distress.

A Family Experience

Cancer not only affects the patient, but is truly a family experience. The cancer experience and the transition to posttreatment survivorship offer opportunities for oncology healthcare professionals and nurse navigators to prepare patients and caregivers for the challenges of survivorship, and to promote physical and emotional healthy behaviors in the whole family.

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