What it Means to be a Cancer Caregiver

What is a cancer caregiver?

A person who helps the patient with cancer most frequently (and without pay) is considered a caregiver.1 They might be a partner, a guardian, a family member, or a close friend. Specific roles of the caregiver depend on the person with cancer and the treatment course of action, but caregivers are primarily responsible for meeting the needs of the person with cancer before, during, and after cancer treatment.1

The caregiver impacts the patient in many ways, especially in how the patient deals with his or her illness. Making sure the patient adheres to the prescribed treatment and recovery plan, providing emotional and physical support, administering medications, managing side effects, shopping and cleaning for the patient and assisting with his or her daily tasks, keeping others informed of the patient’s health status, and influencing treatment decisions can all fall under the umbrella of the caregiver’s function.1Caregivers are integral parts of the cancer patient’s care team.

Undertaking such responsibility might lead the caregiver to feel very stressed and overwhelmed. Some caregivers lose or have to quit their jobs to care for their patients, some develop depression, and some might even have been forced to assume the role of caretaker by the patient’s family members and are must deal with feelings of incompetence or guilt. Conversely, caregivers might feel a sense of satisfaction in caring for a loved one; it might provide meaning and an enchainment of life for them. Regardless of experience, caregiving can be very demanding of a person’s spirit and body due to the level of the emotional and physical dedication required, which might make caring for the patient more challenging
and less effective. So, it’s essential that caregivers have support.1

When and how to get support.

Addressing any constant negative emotions or health concerns with a professional is always a good starting point for a caregiver who is struggling emotionally or physically. If a caretaker is experiencing depression,feelings of helplessness, physical pain/sickness, urges to harm one’s self or the patient, a dependence on alcohol or drugs, or fighting with loved ones, they should seek help.1,2 The social service departments at hospitals can direct caregivers to local support groups and/or a counselor. 1

Support Groups and Systems.

Meeting with a caregiver support group can be done in person, online,
or over the phone, and they are usually led by social workers with oncology experience .1,2 Support groups offer educational and nurturing resources for caretakers, as well as provide opportunities to share experiences with those in the same position. Talking to people who understand first-hand what it is like to be a caregiver of a patient with cancer can provide the caregiver with pragmatic advice and the means to set boundaries and take measures for his or her own wellbeing. Support groups suggest an outside support system for the caregiver as well.

Creating a support system and asking for help can remove some of the daily stressors.1 Caregivers should make note of where they might need assistance and
ask from there. By talking with family members or their close friends, going over procedures, plans, and patient updates, the support system will become more involved. During this time, caregivers should monitor the support system’s strengths and what others are willing to do to help. This will also keep everyone in the loop and will make the transition for someone jumping in easier.1 When away from the patient, caregivers should try to find and participate in activities they’ll enjoy and that’ll make them feel good, as well as make sure to eat well and get plenty of rest. .1,2


  1. American Cancer Society site. Caregiver resource guide. https://www. Accessed 20 Feb 2020.
  2. National Cancer Institute site. Support for caregivers of cancer patients Accessed 27 Jan 2020. NHR

Did you know…that if a caregiver requires time off from patient care, the American Cancer Society (ACS) will coordinate finding someone to step in and provide short-term care for the patient while the caregiver is away?1 Upon request, the ACS will reach out
to respite caregivers from local civic or church groups and/or other community organizations and find someone to temporarily take over care of the  patient.1 The respite caregiver will get to know the patient  and be informed of the patient’s treatment plans before assuming care. To find respite services or a local support group, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

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