From discovery and diagnosis to treatment and recovery, each person's journey with cancer and chemotherapy is unique. The person with cancer is not the only person affected by the disease, however—family members and friends share in the experience. For one person, the caregiver who will help guide the patient through the cancer journey, life will change dramatically; the caregiver is as much a part of the treatment and healing process as the patient.
Preparing to Be a Caregiver
In recent years, the focus of cancer treatment has shifted from in-hospital treatment to outpatient services. This allows the patient to spend as much time in the comfort of home as possible. For this reason, a caregiver must be part home-health nurse, part companion and comforter.
Caregivers manage treatment schedules, administer medicines, and transport the patient to and from treatments. Caregivers also pay bills, cook meals, and clean. It's a lot to juggle, even for the most well-organized person.
Preparing to be a caregiver for a loved one facing a battle with cancer and chemotherapy is as much a step of the treatment as picking a doctor. To help your loved one, you must first prepare yourself. Here are a few things you can do to brace for the ups and downs of chemotherapy treatment:
- Do your research
Prepare a list of questions you and your loved one have about the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Then speak with several doctors and nurses. Ask the hospital's outreach and education office to supply you with a list of healthcare professionals from whom you can seek out advice.
- Plan for the process
As your days and weeks begin to fill up with doctors' appointments, chemotherapy sessions, and medical tests, you will soon find you're short on the time you need to manage personal tasks. Keep a calendar or create a plan to help you manage your time more successfully.
- Be involved
Write notes about what's said at appointments, what happens during treatment sessions, and any side effects that occur after treatment. (The latter is important to report to the patient's doctors in case they need to change treatments.) Old-fashioned paper and pen will suffice, or you can download an app on your smart phone or tablet. Find what works best for you and helps you stay the most organized.
Reach out for help
Many family members, friends, and neighbors will be happy to step in if you need to run errands or just need a break to get out and relax. Some people may feel more comfortable helping you with other tasks, such as grocery shopping, taking something to the dry cleaners, or transporting children between activities. If that's the case, keep a running list of errands you can ask friends to help you with so when they ask, you have something for them. Every little bit helps.
Caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience. It affords you the opportunity to help your loved one as you draw closer in the face of the challenges of cancer and chemotherapy treatment. However, providing emotional and physical care for someone can become stressful and, at times, overwhelming.
You do not have to face this reality alone. Support from other family members or professionals can help relieve stress and give new perspective on the caregiving relationship.
Ask your doctor or call your local hospital's health outreach office and ask for contact information for a local cancer caregiving group. The person you're caring for will likely also benefit from being part of a support group. These groups allow for open communication with people facing the same struggles you are, as well as an opportunity to share suggestions, ideas, and tips with one another.
Caring for the Caregiver
The role of caregiving is often thrust on a person with very little warning or preparation. This is a time of major change not only for the cancer patient but also for you, the caregiver. Whether you're a spouse, parent, child, or friend, your role as a caregiver is to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You will likely feel as if your entire world revolves around your loved one—in other words, you come second in everything.
As the physical demands of caring for the patient increase, many caregivers neglect their own health. The needs and desires of the patient supersede the needs of your own body, so ailments, signs of potential health problems, and preventive health measures—such as getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and getting adequate sleep—often go ignored. Take care of yourself and your loved one. You'll both benefit in the end.
- What It Takes to Be a Caregiver. (2012, March 23). American Cancer Society. Retrieved May 22 from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003199-pdf.pdf.
- Bernis, A., Given, B., Petlick, N.H., & Reinhard, S.C. (2008.) Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.