Communication and Support as a Caregiver

From the moment of diagnosis to remission, cancer affects not only the patient, but their entire support system. Friends and family become caregivers, and at times those roles can become overwhelming. This section offers introductory and supplementary resources, links, helpful tools and topics for caregivers supporting a loved one who is battling cancer.

Helpful Tips for Caregivers

Knowing what to say or how to act with a loved one who has breast cancer is challenging – it is normal to feel unsure.
Here are some tips that you may find helpful during your loved one’s cancer journey (via Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support):

  • Be a good listener and let them direct the conversation – let them decide if they want to talk about their cancer.
  • Respect their privacy. Don’t pry for details – let them share as much about their situation as they would like to.
  • Be honest and open in admitting your own feeling and concerns. It’s OK to tell them that you are not sure what to say or do.
  • Assure them that you are there for them and would like to help however you can.
  • Be specific about ways you can help and then follow through with your offer.
  • If treatment is over, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they no longer need your support. Continue to reach out and offer your support.
  • Make them laugh. Without sounding cliché, laughter is sometimes the best medicine.
  • Don`t do it all by yourself. Offering practical and timely help to your loved one is easier when you have some assistance. Anyone who tries to shoulder the burden on their owner is bound to burn out. Maybe the patient has friends, extended family, or neighbours who would be interested in making a helpful contribution during your loved one`s journey.
  • Join an online forum or support group for breast cancer caregivers to learn more helpful tips. Support from others who are on the same journey can be very helpful.

Tips for Practical Help (via Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support)

Practical help is essential during your loved one’s journey. Taking on tasks will ease the patient’s burden of day-to-day activities. Some specific tasks include:

  • Take your loved one to medical appointments and offer to take notes of what the doctor has to say
  • If the patients is having chemotherapy or radiation, drive and accompany them to a treatment session
  • Pick up their kids from school
  • Look after the kids for an evening or weekend
  • Walk the dog
  • Do laundry
  • Clean the house
  • Get groceries
  • Organize a group of friends to take turns cooking or performing other tasks
  • Bring meals in disposable dishes that do not need to be returned and can be frozen if needed. Ask them what their favorite meals are and if there are any foods that may not be able tolerable during their treatments
  • Bring some feel-good DVDs to watch or books to read

(via Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support)

The best 6 ways to support YOURSELF when a loved one has cancer (via breastcancer.org):

1. Feed your body. Your body is essentially your caregiving machine. It’s important to keep it maintained and efficient by eating nutritional foods regularly, exercising consistently to produce energy and to also lessen the stress of caregiving, and to ensure you’re getting six to eight hours of sleep every night.

2. Feed your mind. Your state of mind is directly related to your energy level and mood. It is important to keep your mind in the present, because thinking about what tomorrow might bring may bring anxiety and depression. Some caregivers find it’s useful to use a journal as a soothing process to empty your mind of stress or to speak to other caregivers who are experiencing the same chaos. There are many online support groups you can use along your journey.

3. Feed your soul. Spiritual substance is often acquired when a caregiver is going through cancer with a loved one. These people are often on a quest to make some sense of this time of their lives, and ultimately the journey of life itself. It is important to pray and meditate – these spiritual tools may rearrange some priorities – but you will also gain some understanding.

4. Preserve your energy. Going through breast cancer with a loved one can be physically and emotionally exhausting, so it’s important to preserve ever bit of energy you have. By feeding your body, mind and soul, you will in turn gain and preserve energy. The patient needs every bit of energy and positivity you have when you are with them.

5. Evaluate your priorities. Unfortunately, you are not superman or superwoman. It is impossible to take care of the patient 100 per cent of the time. Be realistic – patients are capable of comp leting some tasks but set reasonable limits with your loved one. If possible, delegate some responsibilities to other loved ones of your patient. If need be, recruit friends or family to help with some responsibilities. This will help you be the best caregiver you can be.

6. Find your strength. You’re a strong person and you’re a part of your loved one’s journey for a reason. When you’re feeling weak, remember you’re a courageous, capable person.