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Guide for Caregivers for Taking Care of a Relative with Cancer

January 11, 2022

You probably know that a cancer diagnosis is no small feat at all. For a start, the patient will require plenty of physical and emotional forms of support. As a caregiver, the responsibility for doing so lies in your hands.

In this article, we guide through what being the caregiver of a family member or friend with cancer entails, how to handle psychological challenges that many people in your position face, and what you can do to make things as efficient and positive as possible for yourself and your loved one.

Being a Caregiver for Someone with Cancer

Cancer caregivers will typically be in charge of one or more of the following:

  • Being the main income earner when the cancer patient is the caregiver's spouse or an employed household member.
  • Helping them navigate through the medical system and advocating for their needs when talking to doctors, nurses, and/or other health care workers.
  • Managing the household, which includes taking care of children, preparing meals, doing chores, and more.
  • Nursing the sick loved one.
  • Proving the cancer patient with emotional support and companionship.

Simply put, a caregiver's role is crucial for the mental and physical well-being of the care recipient. However, the caregiver's psychological and bodily health are just as important, especially if they want to efficiently support and assist their cancer-diagnosed family member or friend.

How does it feel to be a caregiver for a cancer patient?

Cancer caregivers have to deal with a lot of emotional challenges. Here are a few feelings that many of them regularly develop:

  • Burnout, exhaustion, and fatigue
  • Guilt
  • Sadness and shock, which is particularly common right after the caregiver's loved one gets diagnosed with cancer

Having said all that, being a caregiver is an overall rewarding job. In other words, the role can make you feel important, accomplished, self-fulfilled, and internally at peace.

This underlines the importance of managing your feelings, as a caregiver, so that you can be as beneficial as possible to yourself and your loved one.

Caregiver Burnout for Cancer Caregivers

The following quote highlights how critical it is to take care of yourself in light of the physically and emotionally-demanding nature of being a cancer caregiver:

"If a caregiver doesn't tend to their own needs as well this may lead to illness, increased anxiety, depression, irritability, social withdrawal, [and] resentment."

Many of these issues appear to be minor and short-term, but they could easily turn into long-term psychological problems and cause chronic physical ailments, such as heart disease.

As a result of this, you may want to find a few ways to minimize your burnout as a caregiver and keep your mental health in a positive state.

Tips for Caregivers of Cancer Patients

There are a variety of techniques that can help you retain your energy, stay motivated, and put yourself in the right mindset while you provide care for a cancer patient.

Educate Yourself

It goes without saying that you should educate yourself about the type of cancer that your loved one has and their treatment options.

To illustrate, here are several aspects that you must be aware of in regards to your loved one's cancer diagnosis:

  • The type of cancer that they have, such as lung, skin, and stomach cancers. After all, each of them has its own medicines and recovery plans.
  • What the patient's treatment options are. Some people who have cancer only need chemotherapy, but many of them may have to undergo radiation alongside it.
  • Whether or not they have any other medical conditions and, if so, how the issue and its medications influence your friend or family member's cancer treatments.
  • The stage of their cancer. Cancers that are detected at an early point (namely stage 1 and 2) are relatively easier to address than advanced ones (stages 3 and 4).

Get Involved with Their Health Care Team

Dealing with cancer is a delicate process because it requires patients to take multiple medications in a timely manner, attend appointments on a regular basis, and keep track of their related health records.

Moreover, several medical professionals will work with your loved one. Examples include their primary doctor, nurses, physical therapy providers, and others.

Therefore, you should follow these tips to guarantee that your friend or family member's cancer treatment is as effective as possible:

  • Stay highly organized. For instance, you want to accurately collect, organize, and safely store the care receiver's papers, medical records, and test results. 
  • Prioritize your responsibilities. If you have a list of tasks that you need to complete, rank them based on their importance.
  • Get in touch with the doctor as soon as anything changes or comes up.
  • Trust their medical team and try to get to know them on a personal level.
  • Make sure that the patient is involved in the decision-making process.

Offer Emotional Support

Recovering from cancer partially entails physical treatments, but it also requires the patient to be in the right state of mind. To assist your loved one, you may want to consider the following tips:

  • Maintain a positive attitude and mindset.
  • Regularly remind your friend or family member that you love them.
  • Don't allow the patient to keep focusing on and thinking about their cancer.
  • Coach them during difficult and bad days on how to manage their emotions and deal with their feelings.

In short, your loved one's psychological well-being is arguably just as crucial as their treatments are in their fight against cancer.

In the same vein, you, as the caregiver, should focus on your mental health to ensure that you can help your family member or friend as effectively as possible.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Here is how you can keep yourself psychologically healthy, upbeat, and motivated while you provide care for a loved one with cancer:

  • Make time to tend to your own, personal needs, whether they're social, familial, medical, and/or work-related.
  • Define your psychological and physical limits. When you could use some help with caring for your ill loved one, such as with cooking meals, don't be afraid to ask for it. Relatives and friends might be able to assist you.
  • Learn to forgive yourself and/or the patient when mistakes happen.
  • Talk to a mental health professional if you require psychological treatment or therapy.
  • Join a support group. Not only will you meet others who you can relate to, but you may receive practical advice and guidance from experienced caregivers.
  • Write a journal of your thoughts on a regular basis.

At the end of the day, you can't care for someone else when you don't cater to your own needs. This is especially true if you're in charge of earning your household's income, managing the home, and providing support to a loved one with cancer.

Controlling your emotions and mental health prevents you from becoming sad, guilty, and burnt out. At the same time, it allows you to support your loved one both physically and psychologically.

There are various techniques for taking good care of yourself and your loved one. The tips that we outlined in this article should enable you and your cancer-diagnosed family member or friend to attain your desired medical and mental goals.