Unless you’re a trained healthcare professional, you probably never imagined that you’d wind up becoming a cancer caregiver. When someone you know and love finds out that they have cancer, you don’t have time to stop and think about how you’re going to deal with it. Once the reality of a cancer diagnosis sinks in, you may not stop to think about what to do next. That is until you have that “ah-ha” moment when you realize that you’re going to be taking care of your child, spouse, sibling, or significant other.
Learn About the Diagnosis
The American Cancer Society encourages cancer caregivers to learn as much as they can about their loved one’s diagnosis. Caregivers should know the basics such as the type of cancer, where it began in the body, and if it has spread, and if so, the extent to which the disease has metastasized (or spread). Caregivers should also learn about all the treatment options, and what the patient’s medical care team recommends.
When you have a rough sense of the course of treatment, the types of side effects you can expect, and even the emotional impact that cancer has on someone in your care, you’ll be better equipped to know when you need to contact the medical team or ask for more support at home.
What Does the Role of a Cancer Caregiver Involve?
The American Cancer Society defines a caregiver as an unpaid helper. The typical caregiver is a spouse, partner, sibling, parent, or close friend. Most people who become cancer caregivers have no training for the “job.”
Inevitably, they wind up learning as they go. That’s not to say that you’re going to take a “fly by the seat of your pants” approach to being a caregiver. It means that in the same way that every cancer patient has a different experience with the illness, every caregiver will have a different experience as they get more familiar with the needs of the loved one for whom they are caring.
One of the most significant ways that cancer caregivers can help the patient for whom they are responsible is by being a constant source of encouragement.
Easing Your Way into the Caregiver Role
Being a cancer caregiver is a huge responsibility, but you won’t have time to look for information to help you figure out what the role involves. As a cancer caregiver, you’ll learn about the things you need to do and what to expect as the person for whom you are caring goes through treatment. Most of all, you should never hesitate to ask questions or look for advice or support.
Being a cancer caregiver will undoubtedly be the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do in your life. There is no right or wrong way to be a great cancer caregiver because all cancer patients have different experiences.
One of the most challenging aspects of being a caregiver involves being able to know when and where you need to jump in and control, and when you should back off. No matter how good your intentions are, the family member or friend for whom you are caring should never feel like they no longer have control over any aspect of their own lives. Ultimately, the cancer patient is responsible for every decision regarding care, support, and treatment – unless the patient is your own child.
Helpful Ways to Support a Cancer Patient as Their Caregiver
As the chief organizer, you’ll be responsible for keeping track of appointments, medications, household chores, meal plans and everything else. Don’t expect to do it all alone. Allow family members, friends and neighbors to help you out.
CancerCare is a website that provides free support to cancer caregivers. The site designed a tool to help caregivers coordinate help from family members, neighbors, close friends, and community volunteers. My Cancer Circle describes itself as “an online tool created to support caregivers of people with cancer.” Use the tool to create your own “My Cancer Circle Community.”
Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself Because Someone Else Needs You More
You can’t be an effective caregiver to someone who has cancer unless you give yourself permission to take care of yourself. That means making sure you get enough rest, eat healthfully, and take time off to recharge your internal batteries. A great caregiver understands that they can’t do everything on their own. That’s why having a network of people who are willing to help out with different aspects of caregiving is such a critical part of a total cancer care plan.
If you have children, you may be their primary caregiver. Don’t be ashamed to ask a neighbor whose kids go to school with yours if they’d be willing to take the kids to school and bring them home. Don’t let yourself feel guilty about asking that neighbor if they’ll take care of the kids while you take your spouse or partner to a doctor’s appointment or treatment.
The Choose Hope Words of Encouragement Mini Padfolio With Ribbon Applique is the perfect tool to help you make sure that you have an easy way to keep an ongoing list of questions. Our Cancer Care Gift Tote gives a cancer patient everything they’ll need to take to treatment or to snuggle up with in a comfortable place in their own home.