Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Tips for managing the challenges of caregiving

  • Grieve your losses. It's normal to miss the life you and your loved one had before cancer. You may need some time to grieve your losses. Yet, try not to get caught up in focusing on the past and why this is happening to you. Instead, think about what you can do now. Take it one day at a time, understanding there will be both good and bad days.
  • Go easy on yourself. Caregivers often feel the need to do everything right. When you make mistakes, you may feel like you could have done something better. You may also feel guilty about being healthy. Try to let go of the guilt and don't be too hard on yourself. Most of all, recognize that protecting your own health is essential to being a good caregiver.
  • Put family conflict aside. Sometimes hard feelings develop if one caregiver feels they are doing all the work and other family members aren’t chipping in. Everyone reacts differently in this type of situation. Try to be patient with other family members; they are probably doing the best they can do. Don’t try to solve any underlying issues/conflicts while your loved one is struggling to get better. Try to focus on what is most important at this time.
  • Prioritize responsibilities. It helps to make a list of daily tasks and prioritize what needs to be done. Space out your activities with short rest periods, and postpone small jobs. Also, you don’t have to take over all of your loved one's responsibilities. Your loved one probably wants to feel as independent and in control as possible right now. Try to encourage them to be as self-sufficient as they want to be.
  • Make time for yourself. Caregiving can sometimes be confining and a little lonely. You don't have to feel guilty about needing some time for yourself. Your loved one may need the space too. Start out with small increments of time to yourself each day. Take a walk, watch a movie, call a friend, read a book, get a massage, take a warm bath, or listen to music. Even if it's just for a few minutes, doing something you enjoy can help you feel refreshed.
  • Monitor your own health. Your health is just as important as your loved one’s is. Don’t ignore physical and emotional symptoms, such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, or difficulty concentrating. Stay on top of your doctor's appointments and any medications you are taking. Make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat well, all which may reduce irritability and fatigue. Also, try mind-body techniques, such as relaxation or deep breathing, to reduce stress.
  • Keep a journal. Many caregivers feel more emotional than usual as they try to cope with a loved one’s cancer. You may feel angry with the cancer itself, the situation, yourself, your loved one, other family members, doctors, etc. These feelings are all normal. It can help to keep a journal or write a letter to release your thoughts and feelings so you can better manage them.
  • Try not to take things personally. At times, your loved one may take some of their anger and frustration out on you. Try to remember that they are going through a difficult time, and are probably scared and confused. You may resent having to be the one who admonishes them when they stray too far from their diet and the one who nudges them to do their exercises. Know they appreciate everything you do, even if they don’t say it all the time.
  • Know your limitations. It's common for caregivers to feel that they aren't doing enough to help. Try not to take on more than you can handle. You may be struggling to balance your caregiving duties with your full time job and other responsibilities. Look into the family medical leave policies at your workplace. Consult with your loved one's doctor to determine if/when professional nursing services may be needed.
  • Accept help. Some caregivers think they are the only person who can do the job. Don't be afraid to share the responsibility with others. When people offer to help, be specific about what you need done, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, yard work, etc. If you need financial advice and assistance, contact your hospital social worker. Also, some websites provide calendars and other tools for coordinating help from others.
  • Stay connected. Staying connected with others can help you feel less alone and provide a much-needed emotional outlet. Share your feelings and concerns with family and friends. Join a caregiver support group, where you can talk about your experiences and trade advice. Online social networks can help you feel connected with others without having to leave home. You may also consider speaking with a professional counselor or spiritual leader.
  • Spend time together. Take some time away from cancer-related business to do something fun with your loved one. When you're together, tell your loved one what they mean to you. Not only is it important for your loved one to hear, but it will make you feel better too. Remember that being able to spend time together is a gift.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.