Caring for a loved one with cancer
There are more than 15 million adults living with cancer in the United States today (NCI's SEER Cancer Statistics). For each patient, there is a caregiver sharing in the cancer journey.
Caring for a loved one with cancer is an important job. You play a fundamental role in your loved one’s recovery. Yet, caregiving also has its challenges. Suddenly, you're in this new role and you may feel unprepared. It takes time and understanding to adjust to the changes.
Emotions of caregiving
First, acknowledge your feelings. You may feel helpless about how to help your loved one, and fearful of the future. At times, you may feel guilty that you could be doing more for your loved one. You may also feel angry that this happened to your family, or sad about the life you and your loved one had before cancer.
Balancing the roles of a caregiver
On top of worrying about your loved one’s health, you are likely trying to balance the demands of caregiving with family, household and work responsibilities. Caregivers often take on many different roles at once, such as:
- Medical advocate: Navigating the medical system, attending appointments, overseeing paperwork.
- Nurse: Taking care of physical needs.
- Counselor: Providing emotional support.
- Household manager: Dealing with meals, laundry, paying bills and caring for children.
- Wage earner: Working to maintain income and health insurance.
Keeping yourself well
Caring for someone with cancer can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Too often, caregivers put their own needs aside to focus on their loved one’s needs. Part of your job as a caregiver is to keep yourself well, too. It’s the only way to effectively care for your loved one.
Make sure you get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, exercise regularly and manage stress. Try outlets, such as a bath, massage, journaling, music or painting. Don’t ignore symptoms like loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping or anxiety. It may help to visit a counselor and/or join a caregiver support group to talk about your feelings.
Many caregivers want to do everything themselves. You can’t do it all. Let family and friends share some of the responsibilities. When people offer to help, be specific about what you need done, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry or spending time with your loved one while you run errands. Some websites provide calendars and other tools for coordinating help from others.
Some resources available for caregivers of cancer patients include:
- The National Alliance for Caregiving
- National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA)
- Family Caregiver Alliance
The rewards of caregiving
In spite of all the challenges, taking care of a loved one with cancer can be rewarding. Caregiving can bring you closer to your loved one and strengthen your relationship. It can make you value time together and change your focus on things that are most important.