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Caring for a Loved One with Cancer

January 4, 2022

Caring for a loved one with cancer can be extremely rewarding but very challenging. As the condition progresses, caregivers may have to devote more time and effort to fulfilling a loved one’s needs. However, at a certain point, a cancer caregiver may feel overwhelmed. Still, even though caring for a cancer patient can’t always be easy, a general understanding of caregivers’ struggles can make a world of difference. Therefore, whether you’re an oncologist, a patient, or a caregiver, you should check out these helpful caregiver tips to make things easier for everyone.

Common Challenges Cancer Caregivers Face

Any cancer diagnosis comes with its challenges. Caregivers may experience difficulties adjusting to a loved one’s diagnosis and treatment. 

Financial Problems

It’s no secret that the cost of cancer patient care can be expensive. Families may have difficulty paying medical bills and maintaining a comfortable way of life. Some patients may even need to take out second mortgages or collateral loans to afford quality treatment. This can severely affect the mental health and sense of security in the family.

Marital Tension

When someone has cancer, they may be unable to engage in romantic activities or provide attention to their partner. Caregiver partners often find it challenging to balance the role of a cancer caregiver with their previous relationship dynamic. Consequently, they may feel guilty about feelings of burnout, resentment, and fatigue from caring for their loved ones.

Difficulty Handling Care-Related Tasks

The everyday routines involved in the care of a cancer patient aren’t only time-consuming, but they can also be complex or confusing. While a caregiver may be happy to groom or bathe a patient, the patient may be too heavy to move comfortably. On top of that, the patient likely experiences severe aches and pain, making it hard for someone who isn’t trained in medicine to administer care confidently. Moreover, since cancer patient care involves a lot of prescriptions and precise timing, caregivers often feel anxious about messing up their loved one’s medication routine.

Poor Sleep

Cancer patients often feel pain or nausea, which may require care at all hours. Most caregivers have responsibilities outside of caring for their loved one, so a consistent sleep schedule is vital for their overall health and wellbeing. However, if no one else is around to provide care, they may have to wake up multiple times in the night to take care of their loved one’s needs.

Little Time

Caregivers don’t only lose sleep, but they also don’t have much time to relax and pursue their hobbies and interests. Because of this, they may not have an effective outlet to rest and recharge. A continuous lack of free time can eventually result in burnout, resentment, and stress-related medical problems.

Emotional Highs and Lows

The efficacy of cancer treatments can differ significantly between patients. Moreover, cancer is unpredictable and may progress in a myriad of ways. Cancer affects families in various ways, so a patient’s loved ones may experience a lot of shifting expectations. One day, a patient’s cancer can be in remission. However, within a month, that same patient’s symptoms can return or even worsen. This emotional whirlwind can be too much to handle for the patient’s friends and family members.

How To Help a Cancer Caregiver

There are many ways to help cancer caregivers as they navigate a loved one’s new lifestyle.

Assess the Caregiver’s Needs

Doctors should regularly assess the caregiver’s needs to ensure that they aren’t over their head. While a caregiver may be ready and eager to help in the early stages of cancer, they might have trouble providing everyday care as the disease progresses. If doctors don’t regularly ask caregivers about their needs and the challenges they face, caregivers may feel like they have to shoulder a task that they’re unable to handle. Consequently, the patient may suffer, so it’s essential to identify care-related challenges and find adequate solutions before the caregiver becomes too overwhelming.

Provide Clear Instructions for Everyday Challenges

Most caregivers haven’t received a formal medical education, so many medical concepts may be more challenging for them to understand. Therefore, doctors need to explain relevant concepts to them. This should include the importance of hygiene and avoiding bedsores. Everyone has a different background, so doctors should never assume that a caregiver understands certain medical concepts.

Moreover, caregivers are often nervous about managing prescriptions or carrying out basic care routines. Thus, to ease the caregiver’s worries and help to improve the patient’s quality of life, medical teams must provide caregivers with clear and understandable instructions for all relevant tasks. Furthermore, since most oncologists have worked with many cancer patients, they should leverage their experience to provide caregiver tips that help them fulfill their role more confidently and effectively.

Manage Expectations of Cancer Treatment

Cancer is extremely unpredictable. Because of this, a patient’s prognosis can change in the blink of an eye. While families may rejoice at early signs of remission, oncologists should make sure that they understand the volatile nature of the disease. Doctors must effectively communicate that remission symptoms don’t guarantee that the disease won’t eventually progress. Otherwise, families will be blindsided and devastated if symptoms suddenly worsen.

Utilize Effective Oncology Resources

Cancer is difficult for everyone involved, including the doctors who treat it. Researchers are constantly breaking new ground in the field of oncology. Moreover, new programs and support networks often pop up in states and regions all the time. Therefore, it’s crucial for doctors to constantly reach out to local oncology resources and connect their patients with relevant organizations to achieve the best results for everyone.

Understand the Caregiver’s Limitations

Caregivers have their own lives, and they may not have the time, money, or skills to provide routine care. Thus, as the disease progresses, doctors should consider the caregiver’s limitations and difficulties. With this knowledge, they can push for inpatient care or other care options to ease some burdens.

Encourage Caregivers To Seek Help

Many caregivers feel like they must do everything in their power to care for a loved one with cancer. While their dedication is admirable, everyone has their limits. Often, when caregivers are overworked and too stressed to continue, they feel too guilty to reach out to anyone for help. Therefore, it’s of the utmost importance for doctors to remind patients that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and that there’s no shame in asking for help.

Verdi Oncology has built a network of small, highly-focused, community-based oncology practices to provide members of our network with critical support in the areas of patient experience, patient growth, practice efficiency, clinical pathways, and value-based care.