Caregiving and Cervical Cancer

This section will address issues relevant to cervical cancer caregivers, from managing their own mental health to navigating the medical system.

A caregiver describes someone who provides care in a number of different informal capacities to someone with cancer. This can cover wide range of responsibilities from visits to the doctor to administering medications to providing emotional support to the person being cared for. A caregiver can be a partner, parent, adult child or close friend of the person with cancer.

Communication and support as a caregiver

Support and palliative care

Being a caregiver can have a considerable impact on the psychological well-being and quality of life of family caregivers of individuals with cancer. The prevalence of anxiety and depression in caregivers can exceed that of patients themselves—one longitudinal study evaluating the psychosocial, economic and occupational impact of caring for advanced breast cancer patients reported that equal or higher levels of anxiety or depression in cancer family caregivers than in breast cancer patients [1].

On this topic, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) says:

‘If you’re feeling pressured into becoming a caregiver, it’s best to be honest about how you feel. Respect and speak up for your own feelings, needs and desires, as well as those of your loved one. Decide your limits and let others know so that both you and your loved one get the help you need. It’s normal to be uncomfortable with the idea of giving medicines, giving physical care (such as helping your loved one to the bathroom) or maybe you’re worried about juggling the responsibilities you already have at home or work with this new role. If you talk about it, you can usually work something out. The healthcare team can provide lots of guidance on medicine, or maybe someone else can act as the main caregiver or share the responsibilities with you.’ [2]

Challenges facing caregivers

Fourteen years after a brush with breast cancer, Carol Rugg was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer. Her fiancé, Richard Montmorency, would have to struggle with her through it again as her caregiver.

‘Carol’s treatment was grueling and she could barely eat,’ Montmorency says. ‘Toward the end I almost had to carry her out of the hospital. I cooked her rice and peeled her bananas, got her saltine crackers and helped with her medication. It was scary because sometimes she seemed confused [3].’

A study exploring the experiences of male caregivers of patients with breast and gynecologic cancers over the course of a year identified common patterns of distress: fatigue, pain and loss of sleep; psychological distress; difficulty expressing emotions; lack of social support and limited social contact; fear of the unknown; concerns about finances [4]. Amongst the male caregivers, while modifications in lifestyle behaviours were standard in order to support their wives through the cancer journey, male caregivers continue to express their own unmet need for support [5].

As Carol Rugg, the cervical cancer patient, remarked, ‘I was always very sensitive that the caregiver doesn’t get very much attention. The caregiver is like a secondary player in this game. That caregiver is stressed to the max and nobody is paying much attention to them [6].’

Caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout is a very real concern when caring for a loved one diagnosed with cancer. It happens when a caregiver exists in a prolonged state of stress or distress. It may feel like your situation is spiralling out of control; tasks and activities that once seemed manageable are now stressful and exhausting [7]. Your mood will also be affected—you may feel tense, angry, anxious and depressed more often than not. Physical symptoms can also manifest like sleep problems, muscle tension in the back, shoulder or neck, headaches, stomach problems, weight gain or loss, fatigue, chest pain, heart problems, hair loss, skin problems or cold or infections [8].

Warning signs of caregiver burnout

  • Ignoring your own health problems or symptoms (including putting off seeing your own doctor)
  • Eating poorly
  • Overusing tobacco, alcohol or other substances
  • Giving up exercise
  • Losing contact with friends
  • Bottling up feelings of anger and frustration
  • Having angry outbursts
  • Feeling resentful towards others or unreasonably annoyed by them
  • Feeling anxious, depressed, sad or hopeless
  • Blaming the person with cancer for the situation
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Sleeping poorly

Please seek professional help from a healthcare provider if you are experiencing a few or more of these symptoms over a prolonged period of time.

[9] Information taken from Help for Cancer Caregivers

Resources for caregivers

If you’re a caregiver – Canadian cancer society
Caregivers of cancer patients resource sheet – University of Michigan
Caregiver burnout – Help for cancer caregivers


[1] Grunfeld, Eva, et al. “Family Caregiver Burden: Results of a Longitudinal Study of Breast Cancer Patients and their Principal Caregivers.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association médicale canadienne 170.12 (2004): 1795-801. Web.
[2] “If You’re a Caregiver.” Canadian Cancer Society. Canadian Cancer Society, 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 06 Oct. 2015.
[3] “Care for the Caregiver.” University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
[4] Lopez, Violeta, Gina Copp, and Alexander Molassiotis. “Male Caregivers of Patients with Breast and Gynecologic Cancer: Experiences from Caring for their Spouses and Partners.” Cancer Nursing 35.6 (2012;2011;): 402-10. Web.
[5] ibid.
[6] “Care for the Caregiver.” University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
[7] “Caregiver Burnout.” Caregiver Burnout. Caregiver Action Network, 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
[8] ibid.
[9] ibid.