How Closely Do You Track Your OWN Symptoms?


Last updated: October 10, 2011
analyzing mirror self-recognition

It's a paradox of caregiving that we can know our loved ones more intimately than we know ourselves. By that I mean, we track and monitor the care receiver's every symptom and complaint, but this laser focus too often diverts our attention from our own bodies.

Which may be screaming at us.

That's what symptoms are -- your body's way of saying, "Psst! Red alert! Something's not quite right here!"

Cancer is the health concern uppermost on many minds in the wake of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' terribly untimely death in October 2011. (Not that Jobs did anything notably wrong about his health; pancreatic cancer is a particularly insidious killer.) Then a key government task force recommended against routine PSA blood test screenings for prostate cancer for healthy men without cancer symptoms.

Both headlines underscore the importance of Caring.com senior editor Melanie Haiken's series for Caring on cancer symptoms. It includes 10 Early Signs of Prostate Cancer That Often Go Unnoticed and most recently -- and poignantly -- 10 Early Warning Signs of Pancreatic Cancer.

Many different ailments, besides cancer, are signaled through the aches and pains and weird little (or not so little) changes. Think a second:

  • How's your sleep?
  • How's your back?
  • How's your appetite?
  • How's your breathing?
  • How's your cholesterol level?
  • How's your vision?
  • How's your love of life itself?

You get the idea. It's so easy to backburner your own needs in the face of a loved one's crisis. And, truth be told, it can be hard to tell the sign of a real problem from a garden-variety ache or pain. The body is persistent, though. Ignore a problem too long and the symptom intensifies, or the body starts sending off multiple clues with multiple symptoms.

So please: Notice your own changes. Track them. Write them down. Look for patterns. Make simple adjustments to basic self care (diet, exercise, sleep) and see if anything improves. Mention odd changes or nagging concerns to your doctor. You wouldn't hesitate, I bet, to take your loved one for a checkup under similar circumstances -- show yourself the same compassion. The life you save may be your own.

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6 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

almost 2 years ago

There is so much wisdom--experience, strength and hope--in this posting and additional responses others have posted. Obviously, it's very easy for we, as caregivers, focus on our loved ones to the detriment of our own health, and no one remotely understands what that looks or feels like than someone else who's been there and done that. Yet today...after having spent nearly seven years caring for my elderly mother...my physical and emotional symptoms are triggering bells and whistles inside my head. So I'm sitting down and evaluating what the issues are and what, if anything, I can do about any of it. Surprisingly I have the ability to act on my own behalf more than I originally thought. Granted, there are issues I don't have the solutions to yet, but just the act of assessing my own needs for a change and taking positive steps to address what I can has restored hope.


almost 3 years ago

Being a caregiver (a little over five years for me) is tough. Our case in one where the two of us "are it". Our nearest relative is 400 miles away and the next one is 2,500 miles. So, I'm it. The major problem is "lack of time" when one "does it all". To those of you in this status - it can be done but sometimes some things get short shrift. You just have to do the best you can, and take care of the "patient" first. I have been married to this lovely lady for almost (next month) 62 years. I am personally committed to keeping things normal - including eating well balanced meals, good hygiene, adequate sleep, etc. So, hang in there folks, I know a lot of you are in the same boat and surviving, so newcomers just grin and bare it and the routing will form itself. Good luck. Geezer81


almost 3 years ago

My dad cared for mom while Alzheimer's disease slowly took her mind first and ultimately her body. The stress on the caregiver intensifies as the patient's condition deteriorates. Dad started having fatigue, sweats, and pain in his lower back. He ignored it for several months assuming it was stress related. He was finally convinced he had a kidney infection and made an appointment with a specialist. After several tests, the urologists told him he could not help him, but handed dad a business card for a local cancer facility. The symptoms were all characteristic of Lymphoma. Dad was determined to put moms care first, but did agree to a short-term stay in a nearby nursing home while he underwent chemo. He was on the third dose, however, before he agreed. He successfully completed the treatment and checked mom out of the facility within a few days of his last chemotherapy sessions. Mom's condition continued to deteriorate and bringing her back home was confusing and difficult for her to adjust. The stress on dad intensified and within nine months the Lymphoma returned. The treatment for his aggressive Lymphoma was very difficult and required hospitalization for a short period. We tried to keep her home for him, but we all have full-time jobs and children, so it was not plausible. The doctor told dad his body required rest and minimum stress. He was so sick that he had to stay with us many days while he recovered and finally agreed to let us get mom back into the nearby care facility. She could barely walk by this time and could not go to the bathroom alone, take a shower, or eat without assistance. It was one of the hardest decisions for dad to make, but the reality was that he would die before her if he did not focus on his health instead of hers. We miss mom terribly, but dad has remained cancer free for 18 months and doctors tell us that 24 months means about 85% chance it will not return. I am thankful that dad is still with us and healthy.


almost 3 years ago

It is so easy to lose yourself while helping everyone else. I was a caregiver most of my life, first my children, then my mother, mother -in-law and then several friends. It was easy for me to caregive I even made a career out of it when I became a therapist and a social worker. It was only when I had a near death experience of my own that I realized that I was giving myself away and I didn't know who I was or what I really wanted to do with the rest of y life. Thankfully I had dreamed of writing a novel and right after my heart stopped while I was in the emergency room and thankfully being monitored I began to write my novel. I'm pleased to announce that my novel Without Consent by Virginia R. Degner has been released and is available for ordering through your local bookstore or Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com


almost 3 years ago

I understand whats said;Before i had to start caring for our mother i was having health issues but just put it off as over working my back and not enogh sleep. Well guess what!? I have lost normal eye sight ( double vision ) Gallblader removed, Still need to have a very large kidney stone remved. But can't afford it, 'cause i can't work... Mom can't be left alone for very long. At night i really don't get in a deep sleep 'cause i need to listen for her at night. I use to take a hour walk at 4:00 a.m. (mom would finaly sleep long enough ) But now we live in a very country ( ruel ) no street lights :-( . I also have a horse but Kidney pain has kept me off her too :-( . So, i now just pidle around the barn & chicken coop for 20 mintues but i always have to keep an eye on the house. Mom can't be out with me 'cause she is very unsteady & gets out of breath easy. Well it is normal to end up doing that ( putting somebody before youself )


about 3 years ago

I am in this exact situation right now. I have been a caretaker for almost 8 years. My 'friend' fell and broke his hip, had surgery and will be going into extended care soon. I was running on 'numb' for two days, through surgery and the next day. Third day, I woke up but was unable to get up. I have been down two days now. I have been ignoring myself for so long, I can't remember the last time I did something for myself, I can't remember the last time I 'felt' feelings concerning myself. Where did I go? Why did he become more important than ME?


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