These caregiver tips were written by our co-founder, Chris McHugh, who was diagnosed with late-stage inflammatory breast cancer in 1997. At the young age of 34, she was given 18 months to live, but her journey lasted nearly 6 years. She made it her mission to provide support, raise awareness, and educate others.
Caregiver Support Through The Journey
During her treatment, Chris went through well over 100 rounds of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, a bone marrow transplant, 6+ weeks of radiation and 42 days of IL2 injections.
She didn’t waste a minute of the life she was given; she made memories with family and friends, she taught the medical profession the symptoms of IBC so no other woman would go undiagnosed, she worked with lawmakers to ensure new drugs were made available, and she always made time to mentor others who were newly diagnosed and going through treatment.
But Chris could not have fought the good fight or accomplish all that she did without the never-ending support of her caregivers. From close friends and family to random acquaintances made throughout her journey, everyone brought something to Chris’ life. Whether it was cards sent in the mail, meals brought to the door, transportation to chemo, help with the kids, or surprise packages left on the porch, everyone played a crucial role in keeping Chris’ faith strong and her hope alive.
Chris’ Caregiver Tips offer important insight into the world of the cancer patient while offering advice on how to provide invaluable support.
1. Keep communication open but be a good listener. Allow them to express their emotions without criticism.
2. Show empathy and reassure them that your relationship will not change and that you will commit to them emotionally and physically.
3. Take care of yourself and develop your own support system. Eat well, exercise, and treat yourself gently.
4. Don’t ever make them feel like it is their fault for being sick. Don’t try to tell them what to do. This will increase pressures on them.
5. Blessed are the flexible for they cannot be broken.
6. You will wear many hats. Be flexible to perform other roles without replacing the patient’s purpose in life.
7. At times you need to be motivator/coach. Remember this may be different every day. Take your cues from the patient.
8. Accompany the patient to medical appointments and take notes to reaffirm doctors orders. Be a sounding board for later discussions.
9. Consider a family pet. It’s a great family diversion but consult with patient’s physician before purchase.
10. At home get help with the children, the meals, the house, answering the phone, and talking to friends and family. Ask a church group, neighbors, family, friends, or a service group for help.
11. Support partners need to support, not lead in decision making. The patient must have control. Remember, this is their life, their body, and their future.
12. Be prepared to be the one that takes the anger on bad days. When the patient pushes away, hold them tighter.
13. When I had my husband remarried to the young widow down the block and I expressed it freely, my husband put a stop to it one day by simply stating “it’s going to be pretty hard getting remarried when you’re always hanging around.” Be honest and look for humor wherever you can.
14. If you are a spouse, reassure them that this crisis will not change your love for, or attraction to them as a mate or a person. Be very honest with your doctors if you are having intimacy problems. Example: If you’re having sexual dysfunction, don’t say you are fatigued.
15. The best medicine…verbalize your love and support for them. Be creative, write it, say it, or show it by your actions.
Although Chris passed away in 2003, she leaves the legacy of her timeless caregiver tips, helpful for anyone who is a caregiver, whether new or a seasoned pro. Throughout her cancer journey, she played many roles including a caregiver, an advocate, and family and friends to those going through their own cancer journey, and wrote tips for each.
The links below provide tips specific to each role in a print-friendly version for your convenience.