Finding Stability

Primary Caregiver Challenges: Tips for Running a Household

Primary caregivers experience startling changes to their routines, especially if the person with cancer is a spouse or main provider for the family. Use these tips to keep from getting overwhelmed.

As the primary caregiver for a person with cancer, your life has probably changed more than you ever expected. Your responsibilities have increased dramatically — on top of running your household, you’re also taking care of someone with a very serious illness. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and emotionally exhausted.

Primary caregivers experience startling changes to their routines, especially if the person with cancer is a spouse or the main provider for the family. But even though your entire world has turned on its head, you still need to think about your children and your own job. Fortunately, friends, family and other resources can help take some of the weight off your shoulders while you provide top-notch care to your loved one.

Taking Care of Children

The needs of younger children don’t stop when someone in your home has cancer. Even if you’re in crisis mode, it’s important to keep children’s lives as normal as possible. If you’re juggling the needs of your children with the needs of a person living with cancer, reach out to family or friends for extra support. People can help by taking your children to school or picking them up, taking them to after-school activities or simply watching them for a few hours.

If you don’t have family or close friends nearby, you can still ask for help from trusted neighbors or the parents of your children’s friends. Other community members can share some of your responsibilities and help you maintain a sense of normalcy while you focus on taking care of your loved one. You can also look into having groceries delivered from your local supermarkets (try Instacart) and bringing in a cleaning service to help with household chores (see craigslist or Angie’s List for options).

Financial Help

Dealing with cancer can place a tremendous financial burden on your family. If your household breadwinner is affected by cancer, you may worry about paying the monthly bills on top of paying for treatment. If you also work, it can be very difficult to balance your own job with your primary caregiver role — especially since caregiving can become a full-time job itself.

If you’re still working, you may be able to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which can provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave while you care for your loved one. While you won’t get paid during your FMLA time, your job is protected and you’ll be able to return to work. You also won’t lose any employer-sponsored health insurance coverage you may have.

Also, Medicaid programs in some states provide cancer survivors with services like cooked meals and transportation to doctor appointments. This can help ease the burden of running your household. In some states, Medicaid will pay you to provide these services yourself.

Caregiver Support

If you’re having trouble dealing with the pressures of primary caregiving and running your household, it’s important to reach out for extra support and encouragement. Resources like UVA Cancer Center’s Caregiver Café and the Cancer Support Community offer opportunities to connect with other caregivers who know exactly what you’re going through. There’s also online options when leaving the house isn’t possible.

Being a primary caregiver isn’t easy, especially if you’re also trying to keep your home life as normal as possible. But there are many resources, from friends and family to governmental programs, that can help ease your burden and give you extra support during this difficult time. Research your options in your particular location, and don’t be afraid to reach out for extra help and support.

When a loved one has cancer, the last thing you should worry about is your financial situation. Meet with one of UVA Cancer Center's dedicated financial coordinators to learn about your options.

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Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN