Caring for the Caregiver: Support for Caregiving Family Members and Friends

Cancer CaregiverCaring for a loved one with cancer is an emotional journey. Caregivers often experience the stress and anxiety of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and because they are not the person undergoing treatment, they may feel reluctant to share the way they are impacted. Wanting all the focus to stay on their loved one’s care, they may not reach out for necessary help.

But with so much on their plates — caregiving, managing a household, paying bills, caring for children and even holding down a full-time job — this juggling act can take a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual toll. That’s why it’s critical that caregivers take time to rest and recharge.

If you are a caregiver of someone living with cancer, remember that the better care you take of yourself, the better you’ll be able to care of your loved one.

1. Share Your Feelings

As a caregiver, you may feel anxious, irritable, scared, frustrated, worried or sad. It may be difficult to share those feelings because you feel the need to “be strong” or don’t want to increase the burden for your loved one going through cancer treatment. You may hide these very real emotions and, as a result, you may struggle more intensely.

Instead of bottling up your emotions, find a safe and welcoming outlet for them, such as another friend, family member, spiritual health clinician, social worker, or a religious provider. It can be extremely helpful to make a positive connection with others so that you can share your feelings honestly and openly in a safe place without fear of judgment — and so you can continue to support your loved one on his or her journey.

2. Ask for Help

It can be difficult to ask for help when a loved one is going through a health crisis like cancer. Even though people are constantly asking how they can help or what they can do, you may feel the impulse to pull inward and ride out the storm alone. It may even feel overwhelming to simply figure out what help can look like.

Challenge yourself to say “yes” to help more often. Take a moment to think about what you can delegate and what would make your life a little easier. That may include help with:

  • Small jobs around the home
  • Pre-made dinners
  • Cleaning the dishes
  • Folding laundry
  • Grocery shopping
  • Picking up kids from school or practice

These are the sorts of tasks that someone could easily jump in to assist with.

3. Assign a Communication Point Person

One of the most challenging aspects of caring for someone else is fielding well-intentioned calls, texts and emails from others interested in updates and how they can help. That alone can take a great deal of time and energy to share news — good and bad — and answer questions.

Instead of taking that burden on yourself, assign one family member or friend to be the communication point person for the entire family. Then, you just need to update one person and they can share the news with everyone else. Work together to establish parameters, such as:

  • Ask the communication point person to assign “jobs” to those who ask how they can help. Share what would be most helpful, and then let your point person coordinate tasks and timing.
  • Set boundaries about when your loved one and you need a break from phone calls and visitors. Communicate those parameters — whether it’s the day of or after treatment, or certain hours in the evening, morning or over the weekend — so that others know what to expect and when you’ll be available.
  • Be clear in communication so your point person has the information he or she needs to answer questions.

4. Take Time for Yourself

It can be hard to take time for yourself when you feel like you need to spend all your time with your loved one. Focusing on yourself can help you rest, recharge, and ultimately be a better support. Here are a few simple ways you can take care of yourself:

• Set aside 5-15 minutes every day just for you. That could be during a morning cup of coffee, good book at night, or a quick walk outside. Write it down, schedule it and communicate your intentions so you stick to it.

As difficult as it may be to step away, it can take an emotional toll on both you and your loved one to be together 24/7. A walk around the hospital or block gives you both a chance for a little alone time and to reconnect with yourself.

• Ask a family or friend to visit with your loved one so you can do something you enjoy. You may feel guilty about getting out of the house while a loved one is sick, but it’ll help improve your own emotional and spiritual health.

Meet a friend for coffee or lunch, browse a bookstore by yourself, or head to a favorite park. Whatever it is, just be sure to set a little time so you can enjoy something you love.

Support is Here

Caregivers are welcome and encouraged to talk with Spiritual Health at Emory Healthcare and the Winship Cancer Institute. They’re here to listen and support patients and their caregivers wherever they may be on their cancer journey. Visit our website if you’d like to talk with someone from our spiritual health team.

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center for Georgia – the highest designation given by the NCI to cancer centers in the nation. Winship offers expertise in cancer research, prevention, detection and treatment with the most advanced therapies. Winship is where you get treatments years before others can. Our expert team coordinates every detail of your visit to meet your individualized treatment plan. Visit or call 1-888-WINSHIP for an appointment.


Tags: ,