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Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. Taking care of your friend or family member with cancer is an opportunity to demonstrate love and commitment, and can be a very rewarding personal experience. However, the exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and continuous care demands that come along with that caregiving role can be very stressful.

Caring for yourself is one of the most important—and one of the most often forgotten—things you do as a caregiver. You may feel that your needs aren’t important right now, or that you’ve spent so much time caring for your loved one that there is no time left for yourself. However, paying attention to your own needs and desires –physically, mentally, and emotionally– will give you strength to carry on, which will ultimately help you be a better caregiver for your loved one.

As a caregiver, you might find yourself feeling tired or even have difficulty sleeping. This is seen especially in caregivers who do not seek support for themselves. Caring for your loved one with cancer can be very demanding, but also rewarding as you see your presence mattering to your loved one. At the same time, it is normal for you to feel overwhelmed.

If you were given the role of caregiver, think about how much you are willing to take on. You can chose to meet with the patient’s social worker first to discuss your boundaries, or meet with the patient’s doctor if you feel unable to talk to the patient first.

Maintaining Important Relationships

Becoming a caregiver often impacts relationships. A cancer diagnosis affects the established roles caregivers may have with their partner, parent, friend, dependent or adult child or sibling, and this can be a challenging adjustment.

The effect of cancer on your relationships will vary, and the impact often depends on what your relationships were like before the cancer diagnosis.

Some caregivers find the opportunity to care for someone strengthens the relationship with the person they are caring for. For others — particularly those who had a strained relationship before the diagnosis — the pressure of a cancer diagnosis, treatment and the demands of caring add further tension.

Below are some resources that may help caregivers understand and manage some of these changes.

Resource Links

Talking with Family & Friends
An overview of how cancer can put a strain on relationships. It guides caregivers through some of the potential changes in a way that can help you relate to specific family members and friends.

Help for the Caregiver
National Cancer Institute
Suggests incorporating “family meetings” as a strategy to help members of a patient’s healthcare team and family work together effectively.

Caregiving & Sibling Relationships: Challenges and Opportunities
Family Caregiver Alliance
Features tips for sharing caregiving responsibilities with siblings, which can be challenging when caring for a parent with cancer.

Sharing Responsibilities
Information on the importance of developing strategies for families to recognize and discuss how they react to stressful events. It emphasizes tactics for sharing the responsibility of caregiving, and organizing that process to help resolve caregiving conflicts.

Creating & Managing Your Support Network

As a caregiver, it is so important for you not take on too muchIt may be helpful to think about what you can and can not do, then reach out to others for help to fill in the gaps.

Accepting help from others is not always easy, but it keeps you healthy and lets others contribute time and skills. Having some time for yourself is key to your well-being as a caregiver.

Below are resources that explain how to ask for and receive help, as well as useful online organization and communication tools.

Resource Links

What You Need to Know as a Cancer Caregiver
American Cancer Society
People often need a range of support services to stay healthy and be good caregivers, but they may not know where to go for help or how to accept help when offered. Some caregivers may need assistance on how to build a support network with other caregivers as well as how to find help from mental health professionals.

Caregiving Tips: Asking for Help, Top Ten Ways to Help 
Patient Resource Publishing
Practical tips for asking for help from others: how and what to ask for.

Adjusting to Being a Caregiver
National Cancer Institute
This website includes information  on what you may experience when you first become a caregiver, including common concerns about asking others for help.

Caregiving Support
Offers online support groups, podcasts on a range of caregiving topics, and online booklets on caregiving.

So Far Away: Twenty Questions and Answers about Long-Distance Caregiving
National Institute on Aging
(PDF Version)

Being a Caregiver When Others Want to Help
American Cancer Society
Provides pointers for communicating with family and friends who want to help, but may not know what you need. Going in with a plan can take some of the pressure off you and lets others feel good about helping out.

Online Organization & Communication Tools

Use online tools to organize your support systems and communicate with friend, family and supporters.

Resource Links

Lotsa Helping Hands
This is an easy website where friends and family can organize help for a loved one in need. Features include a care calendar to assign meal deliveries and coordinate rides to appointments. You can also keep friends and family up-to-date with weekly announcements.

Meal Train
An online website to organize meal drop-offs.

Caring Bridge
A well-known community website that allows caregivers and their loved ones to post “updates” that can be seen by anyone who has registered to follow your blog. This allows you to update all of your family and friends at once rather than spending time reaching out to everyone individually.

For Male Caregivers

Recent research shows that of the nearly 65 million family caregivers in the United States, about half are male. Men often face different challenges than female caregivers and may have personal needs that go uncared for.

Below are resources to help male caregivers understand how they can care for their loved ones and connect with others for advice and support.

Resource Links

Caregiving Advice for Men
Practical advice for male caregivers in adjusting to a new role.

Male Caregiver Fact Sheet
Assisting Hands Homecare
Tips for male caregivers including resources and wellness strategies.

Caregiver Physical and Emotional Health

Being a caregiver can be very demanding both physically and mentally. It is important you look after yourself during this process.

Physical Health

It is important for caregivers to continue to care for themselves physically throughout the cancer journey. This can sometimes be difficult when a large amount of time is devoted to caregiving activities.

Finding the time and energy for an exercise class, or making a healthy dinner can sometimes feel like too much work in the midst of everything else on your shoulders. However, there are many resources available that provide guidance for caregivers on how to incorporate physical care into their busy and stressful routines.

Emotional and Mental Health

Sometimes caregivers may feel like their needs become second to the patient. Feelings of resentment, anger and depression are normal.

To avoid letting these feelings affect your relationship and your well being, it is important that you spend time focusing on your own needs and emotions.

A few ways you can make sure to take care of your mental health include:

  • Exercising
  • Socializing with friends
  • Asking for support from your friends and family
  • Eating healthy
  • Seek training from a mental health professional
  • Find spiritual support though religion, meditation, journaling etc.

Know that you can’t do everything. Set realistic limits/boundaries for yourself and try to find others to help with caregiving tasks.

Be kind to yourself. At times, you will feel like you have made mistakes, and that is normal. Mistakes will happen, but as a caregiver, you are trying your best. When you are feeling down about any mistakes, think about all the good things you have been able to do as well.

Resources For You

The UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Support Program (CCSP) is here for you. Connect with the following CCSP programs and services for supporting your physical and emotional well-being.