Caregivers play a vital role in helping those with breast cancer cope with their diagnosis and treatment. However, caregiving is often a job that few people are prepared for. Caregivers often face challenges in providing comfort and care to their loved ones. Learning how to balance the demands of caring with your other roles and your own needs is important.

Who is a caregiver?

A caregiver is anyone who provides care to another person. A caregiver can typically be a spouse, family member, friend, or neighbour. Caregivers can provide support in different ways. They may offer practical help with activities such as housekeeping, cooking, childcare, and transportation. They may also provide emotional, social and spiritual support.

How might I feel being a caregiver?

Providing care for someone close to you can be rewarding and bring you both even closer together. However, it can also be emotionally and physically draining. Caring for someone with cancer can often involve many tasks that may be new and unfamiliar to you. It can be very challenging if you are trying to balance the responsibilities of caregiving with other demands you may have such as work, family or school.

Everyone will have a different experience with caregiving. There will be good days and there will be not-so-good days. You may find that you often experience a range of conflicting feelings from joy and gratitude to sadness, worry, anxiety, frustration, anger and guilt. These emotions are all natural responses to caregiving, so don’t judge them as “good” or “bad”. Taking time to process these feelings and trying to identify what triggers them may help to alleviate them. You may also find it helpful to find an outlet for your feelings – this could involve writing about your feelings in a journal, talking to someone you trust, or even taking a long, brisk walk.

How do I deal with the stress that comes with caregiving?

It’s normal for caregivers to experience a high level of stress. They focus so much of their strength and attention on the person they are caring for, while trying to balance their own routine. However, you need to remember to take care of yourself as well so that you don’t burn out.

Here are some tips to help you stay healthy in mind and body:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Stay active (aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week)
  • Do something for yourself on a regular basis that does not involve caregiving and provides you pleasure. You should not feel guilty for taking time for yourself
  • Find ways to relax, such as meditation, yoga, or just listening to music

Accept your own limitations and don’t try to do it all yourself. It’s okay to ask for help from friends or family, and to accept help when it’s offered. You are stronger, not weaker, when you accept the help of others.

Consider setting up a network of family members and friends that allows you to share caregiving responsibilities. My Cancer Circle offers a free service you can use to create a private online community to organize and manage tasks, such as meal preparation and rides to treatment.

What support resources are available for caregivers?

It’s common for caregivers to sometimes feel overwhelmed and alone. You may find it helpful to talk to other caregivers about feelings and concerns that they may also be experiencing. You may benefit from learning how they may be coping with similar situations. Your local hospital or cancer support centre may have a support group for caregivers. There are also online communities and discussion forums.

There may also be organizations and agencies in your community that can help you with a variety of services including homemaking, transportation, nursing care, and respite care. CBCF can help you locate support resources in your community. Call us at 1-888-778-3100 or send us a message.

Links to more information

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The Caregiver Network

Support for Caregivers of Cancer Patients
National Cancer Institute

Caregivers and Family
American Cancer Society

Caring for a Loved One
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO)

Caring for the Caregiver
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship

For Caregivers (videos)
Canadian Partnership against Cancer Corporation

Caring for the Patient: The Caregiver’s Perspective (video)
University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

The Caregiver’s Role (video)
Johns Hopkins Medicine