When providing care to a loved one with cancer, it is important to remember that you're not alone. The stress that comes with being a caregiver can often lead to burnout, so it is essential to take care of yourself as well.
According to the American Cancer Society, a caregiver is the primary person who provides physical and emotional support to a person with cancer. Family or not, assisting someone through their cancer journey can be difficult—both emotionally and physically. You've taken on an incredibly important and challenging role, so it's important to know how to help as a non-relative cancer caregiver.
Always remember that you aren't responsible for your loved one's cancer. You can provide support, but ultimately the cancer isn't in your control. Though it is not always easy, your dedication and support are incredibly valuable.
1. Educate Yourself About Cancer
Knowledge is power, and being armed with information can help you feel more in control. Research the treatment therapies being used and learn about the side effects. This allows you to be more supportive to your loved one and better understand what they are going through.
2. Practice Open Communication
Healthy communication skills are a priceless tool. Make sure to talk to your loved one about what you're comfortable doing and what you aren't. This will help avoid any misunderstandings or resentments. Everyone has a different caregiving style, which should be communicated early on.
It's also essential to communicate with family members and friends who are also involved in the care. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and can provide the best possible support.
3. Offer Emotional Support—Without Judgment
Talking about feelings and experiences can feel heavy. However, it's an important part of the caregiving process. As a caregiver, you can offer emotional support in a variety of ways.
This can include simply listening, being present, or offering words of encouragement. Being an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on can make a world of difference during hard times.
4. Be Available to Run Errands and Provide Transportation
In some cases, cancer treatment may affect the ability to drive or complete everyday tasks. As a caregiver, it's important to be available to help with these errands and provide transportation.
Picking up prescriptions, taking care of laundry, or driving to doctor appointments are all helpful and appreciated. If you're able to do this, it can help take a tremendous amount of stress off your loved one.
5. Bring Over Nutritious Meals
Eating a healthy diet can enhance the body's ability to fight cancer. As a caregiver, you can help your loved one by regularly bringing over nutritious meals.
This can include cooking a meal, packing a lunch, or picking up food from the grocery store. If possible, try to prepare meals that are high in protein and low in sugar. Consider making larger portions when you cook and freeze the extra for future meals.
6. Help With Household Chores
Cleaning and yard work can be tough when going through cancer treatment. As a caregiver, you can help by taking on some of the household chores.
Vacuuming, doing the dishes, or mowing the lawn can help your loved one conserve energy and focus on healing. If you're not able to do these things yourself, ask a friend or family member to help out.
7. Respect Their Wishes Regarding Treatment and Care
While there may be times you may have to step in and take charge, it's important to respect your loved one's wishes throughout their cancer journey. This includes decisions about treatment and care.
In most cases, your loved one is ultimately in charge of their own care. They may want to take a more natural approach or focus on the quality of life rather than quantity. It's important to respect these wishes and support them in whatever decision they make.
8. Enlist the Help of Others
You can't do everything on your own, and that's okay. Enlist the help of others to provide support to your loved one. This can include family members, friends, or even volunteers from a local cancer support group.
Ask them to come over for a visit, run errands, or help with household chores. Having extra hands on deck will make the caregiving process much easier. But remember, you should always respect your loved one's boundaries and not overload them with help—if they don't want it.
9. Take Care of Yourself
Your body and mind are under a lot of stress. As a caregiver, it's important to take care of yourself. This includes eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and following a healthy sleep pattern.
Find time for yourself to do the things you enjoy most. Practice stress-relieving techniques or seek the support of other caregivers in similar shoes. You've taken on enormous responsibility and it's crucial to make sure you're caring for yourself, too.
We know that being a caregiver can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. But it can also be one of the most challenging. From providing emotional support to helping with everyday tasks, caregivers play a vital role in the cancer journey. OneVillage offers resources to support you every step of the way.