Caregiving roles vary in each situation and are likely to change during the course of the disease.
Caregiving can be both rewarding and challenging.
Caregivers should ensure that they care for themselves while providing care for the person with cancer.
Caregivers are typically family members or friends who provide vital physical, practical, and emotional support to a person with cancer. They are increasingly handling tasks previously done by health care professionals. Caregivers may have a range of responsibilities on a daily or as-needed basis, including providing support and encouragement, giving medications, helping control symptoms and side effects, coordinating medical appointments and providing transportation, assisting with nutritional needs, helping with housekeeping, and handling insurance issues.
There are many ways to fulfill the role of caregiver. For some, it may mean providing 24-hour care. For others, it may mean researching medical information or arranging for outside help. Situations vary in their complexity, and no one scenario applies to all people with cancer and their families. Moreover, as the disease and treatment changes, so will the caregiver's role.
Caregiving roles can generally be broken down into three categories:
Live-in caregiver. One person typically assumes the role of the primary (lead) caregiver, often because of emotional, geographic, and logistical reasons. One-quarter of care recipients in the United States live with their caregivers, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Shared responsibility caregiver. Some caregivers share the responsibility with other family members, based on who is able to best perform each of the caregiving tasks. Working productively with family members in times of stress can be challenging because previous family conflicts are more likely to surface or intensify. However, caring for a person with cancer can also bring families closer together. Learn more about sharing caregiving responsibilities with family in a positive way.
Long-distance caregiver. In some cases, care is managed by a family member or friend who does not live near the person with cancer. A long-distance caregiver assumes the responsibility of coordinating services—often by phone or by email—as well as arranging for local volunteers, friends, and colleagues to assist the person with cancer. Caring for a person with cancer who lives far away can be emotionally exhausting because all of the usual caregiving worries tend to be magnified. It may also cause financial stress. However, there are steps you can take to be an effective caregiver no matter how far away you are. Find out more about long-distance caregiving.
The challenges and joys of caregiving
To manage the challenges of caregiving, it is important to assess all of your caregiving options and find ways to take care of yourself while providing care.
Potential challenges of caregiving include:
Physical and emotional stress
Less time for personal and family life
The need to balance job and caregiving responsibilities
Lack of privacy
Feelings of isolation and loneliness
Read about ways caregivers can take care of themselves.
While it is important to address the hardships and obstacles to providing care, it is also helpful to focus on some of the fulfilling aspects of caregiving:
Caregiving shows the person who is ill that you are committed to providing as much needed help and support as you can.
Caregiving makes a difference to the quality of life and well-being of the person who is ill.
Caregiving gives you a unique opportunity to develop or renew a relationship with the person who is ill.
Caregiving helps set the tone of respect and caring for other family members, regardless of their situations.