Coping With Emotions

Being a Caregiver for a Cancer Patient: The Many Roles of a Caregiver

Make self-care a priority so you have the energy to be the best caregiver possible.

Being a caregiver for a cancer patient is hard work. You likely never imagined yourself in this situation, but now that you are experiencing it, make sure to arm yourself with support, encouragement and information. The more you know about your new role, the better you will be able to care for your loved one and for yourself. In this first installment of our three-part series dedicated to supporting caregivers, learn what to expect during the weeks, months and years following that initial cancer diagnosis.

Initial Diagnosis

Being a caregiver for a cancer patient begins when you both receive the cancer diagnosis. This is a hard time, even if you have prepared yourself for the worst possible scenario. You and your loved one deserve some time to grieve and absorb the shock, so consider canceling your weekend plans to spend the next few days with each other.

Weeks Following Diagnosis

Your caregiver role in the weeks following diagnosis will be full of planning. Grab your calendar and start penciling in doctor appointments and chemo treatments. Write down the addresses and phone numbers of the treatment centers. Start to build a list of family members or friends who could help drive your loved one to and from appointments when you cannot, and mark their names next to any appointments that they will be driving to.

These first few weeks are very task-oriented, which can be a welcome relief after months of testing and uncertainty prior to diagnosis. Take a deep breath and simply focus on the to-do list ahead of you. The only way out of this process is through it, and each appointment or treatment gets you and your loved one closer to recovery.

Months Following Diagnosis

Now that you are in the thick of treatment, you must make self-care a priority. During these difficult months, you will be caring for your loved one when they are feeling sick and tired from treatments. However, all that caring can leave you feeling sick and tired too.

Make a commitment to taking time for yourself at least once per week for a few hours. Take the yoga class you love or step out to watch a movie with a friend. Do whatever energizes you, as long as it does not involve tasks for your caregiving role or for your job. You cannot be a good caregiver to your loved one if you are sick, resentful or fatigued.

Years Following Diagnosis

For some caregivers, the years following diagnosis may include celebrations of cancer-free scans and survivorship planning. For other caregivers, the years following diagnosis could involve drug trials and comfort care. In either case, you will find relief in your self-care practices, as well as in mindfulness. Living in the moment allows you to appreciate what is in front of you without looking anxiously ahead to the next appointment. You can practice mindfulness by focusing on gratitude, and by rallying friends around you to help you remember that there is much more to life than cancer.

Taking on the role of caregiver means that you will likely need to assume responsibilities like communicating on behalf of your loved one and being a patient advocate during their medical appointments. Being prepared and equipped with the right tools and tactics will allow you to be the best caregiver possible.

Caregiver, your work is hard. We are cheering you on. You’ve got this!

It's critical to care for yourself while you're caring for your loved one. UVA Cancer Center offers many support services for caregivers.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress