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When You Are the Cancer Caregiver

December 04, 2023

Getting diagnosed with cancer is only the beginning of an emotionally challenging, complex, and sometimes bewildering journey – for both patients and their caregivers.

A caregiver is often someone who has a strong, trusted relationship with the patient such as a spouse, child, other family member, or close friend. From emotionally and physically caring for the patient while they go through treatment to advocating for the patient during appointments, a caregiver provides invaluable support. It is no small thing to take on this responsibility, and the pressure can at times be overwhelming.

Advocating For a Loved One with Cancer

A key job for a caregiver is to advocate for the patient when meeting with their care team. Cancer can be both emotionally overwhelming and physically demanding for a patient, so it’s understandable that a patient may not remember to ask certain questions about their treatment or discuss side effects of medication with their care team. As an advocate for the patient, their caregiver can ensure the patient’s questions and concerns are addressed.

Another task that may fall on a caregiver is to be part of advance care planning discussions. These conversations can encompass decisions about treatment options, end-of-life care, and ways to improve the quality of life of the patient.

While having these discussions may be emotionally difficult, they are essential. It ensures the patient's voice is heard and respected throughout their cancer journey.

Dealing With the Emotional Impact of Cancer

Cancer is not just a physical battle; it is an emotional one as well - for both the caregiver and the patient. Caregivers carry a heavy emotional burden when a loved one has cancer. Not only are caregivers worried about the life, health, and emotions of their loved one with cancer, but the caregiver is also helping the patient manage physical and emotional symptoms, ensuring the patient follows guidance from their care team, and making sure that day-to-day needs are met.

It is normal to feel overwhelmed, scared, or angry. Reach out to family and friends for support, join caregiver support groups, and find time to take care of yourself. When someone asks how they can help, give them a task like making dinner once a week, driving the kids to/from activities, or ask them to stay with the patient so that you can rest and recharge. For both the patient and caregiver, emotional well-being is an integral part of their overall health.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

The duty of caring for someone with cancer can take a toll, and self-care should be a priority. A caregiver cannot effectively support the patient if their own physical and mental well-being are neglected. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, get adequate rest, and seek help if it is becoming too hard to cope with the stress. Ask for assistance or delegate responsibilities to others. Getting help is not a sign of weakness but a recognition of the demanding nature as a caregiver.

Assuming the role of a caregiver to someone with cancer is a significant responsibility. Effective collaboration, addressing the emotional impact, advance care planning, and self-care are all integral aspects of this obligation. By proactively addressing these areas, one can provide the best support and care for a loved one, navigating the complex and emotional terrain of cancer together.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.