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New Cancer Caregiver

This article was originally published on

Receiving news of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis can be daunting on its own. But if you find yourself in the position of suddenly becoming a caregiver, it can be especially hard. Becoming a caregiver might feel like taking on a new job that you have no training for. However, with time it can get easier. Plus, many caregivers find their new role fulfilling.

What does being a caregiver look like?

Just like each person's experience with cancer is different, so is the role of each caregiver. A caregiver is usually the person who provides the most home care for their loved one but is not paid.1

Because cancer treatment may be given in outpatient treatment centers, people with cancer often need help handling daily tasks. Caregivers may help feed, dress, and clean their loved ones. They may also take care of responsibilities like paying bills, scheduling appointments and managing health insurance. Caregiver responsibilities change over time as the needs of the person they are caring for change.1

Understanding the diagnosis

An important first step as a new caregiver is understanding your loved one's diagnosis. Understanding their type of cancer and treatment plan may help you understand what the future holds. Some questions that may be helpful to ask your loved one’s doctors include:2

  • Has the cancer spread beyond where it started?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • How long might treatment take?
  • What will treatment be like and where will it take place?
  • What are the potential side effects of treatment, and how will it impact daily life?

Challenges and benefits of caregiving

Though caregiving is challenging, many caregivers find it rewarding. Some view caregiving as a chance to show their love and appreciation for their loved one. It can be an opportunity to bond more. It also may be motivating to feel as though you are making a difference in your person’s life. Many caregivers feel it gives them a sense of purpose.1

Caregiving can also be difficult and painful. It is a very demanding job. It has an emotional side to it because you are personally invested in the well-being of your loved one. Caregivers can feel unprepared for the responsibilities asked of them. Some caregivers develop depression, tiredness, or trouble sleeping, especially if they are not taking time for themselves. This is why taking care of yourself is an important part of being a successful caregiver.1

Ways to take care of yourself

Caring for a loved one with cancer can be overwhelming. Taking care of yourself will make you happier and a better caregiver overall. At first, it may be helpful to reflect on your limits and set boundaries early. This can prevent a situation later where you are over-committed.1

Other steps you can take to care for yourself include:1,3

  • Taking time for stress-relieving hobbies
  • Seeking emotional support or help with caregiving responsibilities from friends and family
  • Trying to eat a healthy diet and exercise
  • Speaking with a mental health professional
  • Taking time for meditation, journaling, or praying
  • Joining a support group for caregivers
  • If you have trouble balancing caregiving and your career, asking your human resources office about options for unpaid leave

No one can be a perfect caregiver all day, every day. It is a good idea to plan breaks for yourself. You may consider hiring a nurse, asking a friend or family member to cover for you, or using an adult care center. If you cannot afford outside care, Medicaid or Medicare may be able to help cover the cost.1

Becoming a cancer caregiver is a big step that will likely change many aspects of your life. As a caregiver, you have a unique opportunity to help your loved one navigate their cancer and have a huge impact on their life.

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