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Care Givers

Overview

You may not think of yourself as a caregiver. You may see what you’re doing as something natural. You are taking care of someone you love or you might feel obligated to be of service to someone in your life.

There are different types of caregivers. Some are family members, while others are friends. Every situation is different. So there are different ways to give care. There isn’t one way that works best.

Caregiving can mean helping with day-to-day activities such as doctor visits or preparing food. But it can also happen long distance. You may have to coordinate care and services for your loved one by phone.

Caregiving can also mean giving emotional and spiritual support. You may be helping your loved one cope and work through the many feelings that come up at this time. Talking, listening, and just being there are some of the most important things you can do.

Giving care and support during this challenging time isn’t easy. The natural response of most caregivers is to put their own feelings and needs aside. They try to focus on the person with cancer and the many tasks of caregiving. This may be fine for a short time. But it can be hard to keep up for a long time. And it’s not good for your health. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others. It’s important for everyone that you give care to you.


Coping with your Feelings

You’ve probably felt a range of feelings as you care for your loved one. These feelings can be quite strong and will likely come and go in strength as you go through treatment with the patient. Many caregivers describe this as "a rollercoaster ride". You may feel sad, afraid, angry, and worried or fulfilled. There is no right or wrong way to feel or react to these feelings.



 
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You may relate to all of the feelings below, or just a few. You may feel them at different times, with some days being better than others.

It may help to know that other caregivers have felt the same way that you do. One of the first steps in coping with feelings is to recognize that they exist and that having them is normal. Try to give yourself time to understand and work through your range of emotions.

  • Anger

Caregivers say that it’s common to be angry with themselves, their family members, or the patient. Sometimes anger comes from feelings that are hard to show, such as fear, panic, or worry. If you can, try to avoid lashing out at others because of these emotions. Anger can be healthy if you handle it the right way. It can help motivate you to take action, find out more, or make positive changes in your life. But if these feelings persist and you remain angry at those around you, talk with a counselor or other mental health professional.

  • Grief

You may be mourning the loss of what you hold most dear -- your loved one’s health or the life you had with each other before cancer. It’s important to give yourself permission to grieve these losses. It takes time to work through and accept all the changes that are occurring.

  • Guilt

Feeling guilty is a common reaction for caregivers. You may worry that you aren’t helping enough, or that your work or distance from your loved one is getting in the way. You may even feel guilty that you are healthy. Or you may feel guilty for not acting upbeat or cheerful. But know that it’s okay. You have reasons to feel upset and hiding them may keep other people from understanding your needs.

  • Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety means you have extra worry, you can’t relax, you feel tense, or you have panic attacks.


Many people worry about how to pay bills, how things will affect the family, and of course, how their loved one is coping. Depression is a persistent sadness that lasts more than two weeks. If any of these symptoms start affecting your ability to function normally, talk with your health care provider. Don’t think that you need to tough it out without any help. It’s likely that your symptoms can be eased during this hard time.

 
  • Hope or Hopelessness

You may feel hope or hopelessness to different degrees throughout your loved one's cancer treatment. And what you hope for may change over time. You may hope for a cure most of all. But you may also hope for other things, such as comfort, peace, acceptance, and joy. If you're not able to get rid of a feeling of hopelessness, talk to a trusted family member, friend, health provider, or spiritual or faith leader.

  • Loneliness

You can feel alone in your role as a caregiver, even if you have lots of people around you. You may feel that no one understands what you're going through. You may feel lonely because you have less time to see people and do things that you used to. Whatever your situation, you aren't alone. Other caregivers share your feelings.

  • Fear

Family members might experience fear that they too might have cancer in their future. If this describes you, don't allow your fear to interfere with your relationship with a family member. Instead, act constructively. See a certified genetic counselor who can assess your risk of inherited cancer with a validated approach. To find one in your area ask your doctor.


Other Ways to Cope

  • Let go of mistakes

You can’t be perfect. No one is. The best we can do is to learn from our mistakes and move on. Continue to do the best you can. And try not to expect too much from yourself.

 
  • Cry or express your feelings

You don’t have to be upbeat all the time or pretend to be cheerful. Give yourself time

to cope with all the changes you are going through. It’s okay to cry and show that you are sad or upset.

  • Put your energy into the things that matter to you

Focus on the things you feel are worth your time and energy. Let the other things go for now. For example, don’t fold the clothes when you’re tired. Go ahead and take time to rest.

 
  • Understand Anger

Your loved one may get angry with you. It’s very common for people to direct their feelings at those who are closest. Try not to take it personally. Sometimes patients don’t realize the effect their anger has on others. So it may help to share your feelings with them when they are calm. Try to remember that the anger isn’t really about you.

  • Forgive Yourself

This is one of the most important things you can do. Chances are that you are doing what you can at this moment. Each new moment and day gives you a new chance to try again.


Life of a Caregiver

A study from the November 1998 Journal of Family Nursing provides a glimpse into the life of a cancer caregiver. This study examined caregiver characteristics and needs through a questionnaire of 750 cancer caregivers in the University of Pennsylvania Family Caregiver Cancer Education Program.


Who Are the Caregivers?

Are you taking care of a loved one with cancer? You are not alone. Studies suggest that at least 50 percent of those diagnosed with cancer will be cared for by someone in their immediate family.

 

The Journal of Family Nursing Study suggests the following statistics for cancer caregivers.

  • 82 percent are female
  • 71 percent are married
  • 61 percent have been providing care for less than six months
  • 54 percent live with the patient for whom they are caring
  • 47 percent are more than 50 years old
  • 36 percent reported caregiving took more than 40 hours of time per week
 

The Journal of Family Nursing study assessed the impact of providing care on cancer caregivers’ physical, emotional, and financial health.

Physical

  • 70 percent reported taking between 1 and 10 medications per day
  • 62 percent said their own health had suffered as a result of caregiving
  • 25 percent reported having significant physical limitations of their own

Emotional

  • 85 percent reported that they resented having to provide care
  • 70 percent said their families were not working well together
  • 54 percent visited friends and family less since assuming their caregiving role
  • 35 percent said they were overwhelmed by their caregiving role
  • 97 percent said their roles were important
  • 81 percent stated that they wanted to provide care and could not live with themselves if they did not assume caregiving responsibilities

Financial

  • 46 percent reported inadequate financial resources
  • Caregivers frequently missed as many workdays as those patients for whom they were caring, according to a survey conducted by the Fatigue Coalition

These results demonstrate that caregivers need to care for themselves. Studies suggest that community-based education and support for caregivers may help relieve the stresses associated with providing care for a loved one with cancer.


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