Caring for a Loved One with Cancer
Many cancer patients today receive part of their care at home. People with cancer are living longer, and many patients want to be cared for at home as much as possible. This support is often given by family caregivers, who may be spouses, partners, children, relatives, or friends anyone who is helping a loved one get through cancer treatment. Today, family caregivers do many things that used to be done in the hospital or a doctor's office. In fact, they play a large role in the health care system in the United States.
Your life will change in many ways when you begin to provide care for someone with cancer. As the patient's needs change during and after cancer treatment, your role will also change, and the entire experience can affect your quality of life. There may be physical and emotional demands from caregiving, and, for some, social and money issues as well.
Cancer patients may need help with many basic activities during the day, such as using the toilet, moving around the house, and changing positions in bed. As you try to meet the physical demands of caregiving, you need to take care of yourself. Some caregivers have found that they don't get enough rest and don't let their own health needs get met. Engaging in healthy habits such as exercise, a healthy diet, and regular medical checkups may keep you from developing health problems or making existing ones worse.
Getting support from health care professionals may help you take better care of your loved one and yourself.
In the beginning, there may be a lot of support from your friends and you may be able to continue working and keep up your relationships. But some caregivers note that as they continue to care for their loved one, the time demands may increase, and friends may call or visit less often. If this happens to you, and if there are problems in your relationship with the patient, your sense of isolation can become a problem, and you may want to seek outside help. On the other hand, the challenges of caregiving can also bring you closer to the patient as you help them cope with the challenges cancer brings.
There are many financial costs of cancer. Families must pay insurance deductibles, copayments, and the cost of services that are not covered by insurance, such as transportation and home care help. Some caregivers give up their jobs and income so they can stay home with the patient, which can make it harder to pay for everything. And financial stress often causes additional emotional stress.
All of these changing circumstances, new feelings, and major demands on your time can be overwhelming. But this is a crucial time to care for your own mind, body, and spirit. Giving care and support during cancer isn't easy, yet many caregivers find that it helps them look at life in new ways. Some have said that it's an honor and a privilege to care for someone they love. You may think more about the purpose of life, and recognize more clearly which people and aspects of life mean the most to you. Looking for meaning can be a way to cope. Other caregivers discover they can be strong during hard times, and develop a better sense of self-worth or personal growth.
Getting support from health care professionals may help you take better care of your loved one and yourself. You can also find support from caregiver groups and cancer organizations, where you can talk with other families. Some caregivers find it helpful to join a support group or to talk to a counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional. Many people who are active in their faith or spiritual community will find support and resources readily available. Advice about caregiving is available from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the booklet "Caring for the Caregiver" and in the fact sheet "Home Care for Cancer Patients". More information can be found at the Coping with Cancer: Supportive and Palliative Care page of the NCI Web site.
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Source: The National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov