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Becoming a Caregiver

When somebody you care deeply about receives a cancer diagnosis, both of your lives can change in an instant and together you begin to embark on a cancer journey.

What to expect

Suddenly you are there to provide emotional support, and in many cases become a caretaker for that person. You may be the primary provider of assistance with daily living functions, give medications, schedule appointments, assist with transportation and you may even become involved with navigating insurance and other legal matters.

Some days, it may feel like an insurmountable task, but it’s important to understand that you are such an important part of another person’s fight, and what you do can help to make their journey less stressful. It will provide rewards to both of you that you never thought possible.

Becoming a Caregiver

Feeling overwhelmed

You will no doubt experience a variety of emotions including overwhelming sadness, fear, anger, and frustrations that will leave you feeling like you can’t possibly continue at this pace in meeting the constant demands being made of you.

Knowing the signs

"Caregiver Burnout" can become very real, and a combination of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion as well as guilt can easily change your attitude toward the person you are caring for. Classic signs of "Caregiver Burnout" include:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Irritable, hopeless, helpless, sad
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick more frequently
  • Excessive use of alcohol, medications, sleeping pills
  • Neglect or rough treatment of the person you are caring for
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Losing control physically and/or emotionally
  • Feeling of wanting to hurt yourself or the person you are caring for

Taking care of yourself with these ways to cope

If you see any of these signs or are feeling overwhelmed, here are some things that may help:

  • Find somebody to confide in. This can help so you don’t feel like you are carrying the full load on your shoulders.
  • Educate yourself, learning as much as possible about the illness. Knowledge is power, and it will help you to feel less anxious.
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel something is, it usually is.
  • Encourage independence. Just because you are a caregiver, it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything.
  • Keep a calendar or other type of device handy so that you can be reminded of appointments, times for medication, etc., and try sticking to a routine. It will help you feel in control and let the person you are caring for know what to expect.
  • Stay social and do things every day that you enjoy. It will help you from feeling isolated. It’s also important to take time each day to relax so you can "recharge your batteries"!
  • Exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep will help you feel less stressed, energized and rested, ready to take on another day.
  • Most importantly, know your limits and be realistic about what you can do. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

The National Cancer Institute provides a publication to help caregivers. Caring for the Caregiver is available online and can also be downloaded free of charge. They also provide information to support caregivers of cancer patients.

Other Helpful Resources Include:

The National Alliance for Caregiving partners with other caregiving associations and groups to provide additional resources to help family caregivers.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides resources for their Caregiver Support Program (CSP).