When your loved one has cancer, it’s a difficult time not only for them but also for their near and dear ones. Anyone who is involved in taking care of a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer can help them on their journey as a caregiver. The most important thing you can do as a caregiver is to show them your love and support as they navigate their illness.
If you attend their doctors’ appointments, have an open and honest conversation with their health care team. Help your loved one understand what to expect from treatment and what their options are from clinical trials to chemotherapy, radiation or palliative care. Don’t force them to reveal information that they are not comfortable sharing and be mindful of what your loved one really wants to know. Encourage patients to talk about their symptoms, be it pain or anxiety, and be their voice if they are unable to communicate effectively. Have a pen and paper handy to take down notes.
As caregivers, we often wish for those close to us to live as long as possible, but at the end of the day, it is important to live as well as possible and focus on the quality of life. Don’t get caught up in the diagnosis but pay more attention to your friend or family member than cancer itself. Cherish the time you have left with your loved one and look for positive moments.
Conversations about advance directives and living wills are often difficult but important to be taken care of while your loved one can explain what they want for themselves. End of life wishes can differ across families. In some cases, patients are in the driver’s seat making all their decisions whereas in some cases they want their loved ones to make that decision for them. Family members and friends who are making such decisions should let go of their own prejudices and focus on the patient’s wishes.
As patients and their families go through their cancer journey, caregivers may experience feelings of depression, hopelessness and what we call “caregiver fatigue.” Talk to your healthcare provider if these are affecting your life and functioning or speak to someone you trust and get support. Understand your own strengths and limitations and learn to let go of things you cannot handle and ask for help. To be able to help your loved one, you may need time to rest and step away to recharge. Take some time for yourself to understand your emotions and find means to relax.
The National Cancer Institute is a great resource for patients and their caregivers. To learn more, click here.
Dr. Archana Rao is an oncology and hematology specialist with the Cone Health Cancer Center at MedCenter Mebane. Dr. Rao completed medical school at Topiwala National Medical College and her residency in internal medicine at SUNY Upstate University. She completed her fellowship in hospice & palliative care at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and her fellowship in hematology & oncology at SUNY Upstate University. Dr. Rao is board certified in internal medicine, palliative medicine, hospice care and hematology and oncology.