Written by Kelly Ho
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it impacts not only their life but also the ones they love. Upon the initial stages of finding out, the assigned caregivers are often shocked and frightened by the news. This can lead to immense stress and perceived pressure placed upon the immediate community, especially the primary caregiver 1.
Emotional distress can stem from the feeling of being underprepared for the role as well as a lack of confidence in how to care for their loved one. It is common to give up your own needs and focus on your loved ones during this difficult period and the increased stress levels can have profoundly negative effects on the caregiver’s mental health 2.
Tips For Cancer Caregivers
It is possible, however, to alleviate some of the stress felt when caring for your loved ones with the following tips.
Find Time For Yourself
While caring for someone, you may find that your personal activities are cut back. This does not mean that you should stop doing them altogether. Regularly taking time off to look after yourself can do wonders for your mental health. This can be anything from taking a nap, going out for a jog, a relaxing hobby or something else that you enjoy.
Negotiate a Work Schedule
Being a caregiver can be a full-time job that you have to juggle alongside your paid work. To balance this, you may need to take time off work. Talk to your employer about arranging more flexible working conditions as well as the impact that your role as a caregiver will have on your job. Consider speaking to a social worker, psychologist or financial counsellor to discuss your options and financial situation.
Know That You’re Not Alone
When a loved one is receiving cancer treatment, it can be a struggle to balance caring for them and doing daily tasks. Remember your support circle and don’t hesitate in asking family members or close friends to help you with tasks like driving the kids to and from school, cooking, cleaning, or walking the dog.
Talk About It
It is okay to feel that your responsibilities are overwhelming you. Talk to someone who you can open up to about your feelings, whether this be a person in your inner circle, or a counsellor.
If you would like to read more about the experience of living with and caring for someone with cancer, we highly recommend the book A Hole in My Genes by psychologist Dr Jodie Fleming. This memoir provides an insightful look into the frightening difficulties a person is faced with when living with cancer as Dr Fleming tells her story from the perspective of a health professional, primary carer and patient.
You can buy a print or eBook copy of A Hole in My Genes here.
 Nijboer, C., Triemstra, M., Tempelaar, R., Sanderman, R., & vanden Bos, G. A. (1999). Determinants of caregiving experiences and mental health of partners of cancer patients. Cancer, 86(4), 577-588.
 Kent, E. E., Rowland, J. H., Northouse, L., Litzelman, K., Chou, W. Y. S., Shelburne, N., … & Huss, K. (2016). Caring for caregivers and patients: research and clinical priorities for informal cancer caregiving. Cancer, 122(13), 1987-1995.
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