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January 12, 2021

What to expect when caring for someone with cancer

Caregiving Cancer

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Daughter supporting her mother Andrea Piacquadio/

Half of all men and a third of all women battle cancer at some point in their lives. For many of these people, cancer is survivable — although emerging victorious often requires the support of others. If you’re a loved one of someone recently diagnosed with cancer, you may be asked to take on a caregiving role.

Cancers can follow a wide array of courses based on the type of cancer, prognosis, and treatment options. Caring for someone in with an advanced or aggressive form of cancer looks very different from taking care of someone who has a good prognosis and needs less aggressive treatment options. In the immediate period after a loved one has been diagnosed, expect them to struggle with this news. You can offer to help and try to learn as much as possible with them about their cancer.

When care begins, here’s what you should consider and be ready for.

You’ll be stressed

It’s natural to put your loved one with cancer first, setting aside your own feelings and needs. But beating cancer is a marathon — not a sprint — and helping your loved one fight it for a long time can be harmful to your own health and well-being. If the person you’re caring for is a spouse, parent, or someone else close to you, their battle with cancer will be stressful, so it’s important to manage those feelings and mitigate the physical effects of stress as the arise. There’s no way to avoid stress in this situation, but you can and should try to manage it.

You can’t do it alone

Just because the cancer patient asked you to help, it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Having others help you carry the load of care goes a long way. This relief may not even be directly related to care: someone could help with household chores, driving, or picking up medicines. This assistance will help you have more energy and take better care of yourself.

Your relationships may be affected

The time and nature of caring for a cancer patient will impact your relationships. Your relationship with the patient may change, particularly if they’re a parent or spouse. Particularly for patients who previously served as a caregiver, transitioning into a dependent role can sometimes have a significant impact on the patient’s emotions and their relationship with the caregiver. The time it takes to provide care may also impact how you relate with people at work or friends, as well as how much time you can spend with them.

You need to plan

If you’re taking care of someone with cancer, the impacts on your time and finances are significant. You should plan for how you’re going to manage those, along with other commitments in your life. You also need to plan for what will happen when treatment ends, and keep caregiving from leaving you in a state that makes it difficult to move on with the rest of your life.

Finally: you need to be ready to take care of yourself. Caring for someone with cancer is difficult, and you will end up going through the journey alongside them. It’s important to take the time and care you need to be your best self. That means seizing opportunities to exercise, rest, eat, and preserve your mental health.

It may seem counterintuitive to focus on self-care when you’re supporting someone else, but staying strong and healthy will ensure that you're able to be there for them. And that may mean you can look forward to a better life when it’s in remission.

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