More than 15 million Americans have a history of cancer, and roughly 1.8 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2019. Along with every cancer patient is a cancer caregiver, a part of their cancer journey.
Caring for cancer patients is an important job, and the responsibilities that come with the job can be challenging at times. The job plays a crucial role for patients and requires great dedication, time, and understanding.
On any given day, a caregiver may need to wear several different hats such as:
- Nurse: to take care of a patient’s physical needs
- Medical advocate: to manage and attend appointments, oversee paperwork, and work through the medical system
- Household manager: to monitor meals, bills, children, and other household duties
- Counselor: to provide emotional support
- Wage earner: to maintain personal income and health insurance
Patti Simmers, MSN/Ed, RN, OCN and Oncology Nurse Navigator at MountainView Hospital, frequently works with cancer patients and caregivers and understands that filling in the various roles of a caregiver is difficult, especially for someone new transitioning into the caregiver role.
“Depending on the situation, the caregiver may have to take a leave of absence from their job, devote a large amount of their time to taking their loved one to appointments and treatment visits, and provide emotional support and encouragement to the patient,” says Patti. “All of this can take a toll on the caregiver, especially if the caregiver has no back up to help with the care.”
Whether you are beginning to learn your responsibilities as a caregiver or have been in the role for a while, it’s common to feel “burn out”, especially if you do not have other family members or friends to help you.
Signs of burn out include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased susceptibility to illness
- Lack of focus
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Social withdrawal
“When caring for a friend or family member with a diagnosis of cancer, the caregiver may experience fatigue and anxiety due to the demands of caregiving,” explains Patti. “Along with caring for the patient with cancer, the caregiver has to care for their children and spouse along with working a full time job.”
Despite all the challenges and difficulties, caregiving can bring you and your loved ones closer and strengthen your relationship. Though you may feel alone and overwhelmed in the beginning, there are many resources and tips to help you better transition into your role as a caregiver.
“Transitioning into or maintaining the caregiver role does not need to be difficult,” says Patti. “By using the following tools, family caregiving can be a shared responsibility between family members caring for their loved one with cancer.”
Below are 5 tips Patti offers to cancer patient caregivers:
- Get educated and become familiar with the type of cancer and recommended treatments so you will have an idea of what to expect
- Seek out advice and support from other caregivers
- Encourage your loved one to be as independent as possible
- Know your limits and seek help from other family members
- Join a support group where you can talk with others going through the same situation
Taking on the roles of a cancer caregiver is not easy, and caregivers need support systems, as well! Some resources and caregiver communities Patti recommends include the National Family Caregiver Support Program, the Family Caregiver Alliance, Caregiver Action Network, American Cancer Society, and the Cancer Support Community.
If you or a loved one are seeking medical attention for a cancer diagnosis, MountainView Hospital offers a dedicated in-patient Oncology Unit with the latest amenities for patients and visitors- all designed to enhance experience and comfort. For more information visit MountainView-Hospital.com.