Caregiving for Stomach Cancer

If you are a spouse, partner, or other household member of a person with stomach cancer, you will most likely be the primary caregiver for your loved one. Your loved one’s cancer journey may be one of the most challenging feats you will face in your lifetime. This section will provide you with tips and information you may find useful to help your loved one during this difficult time, and how to make the journey easier on yourself, too.

What to expect

Stomach cancer treatment is very grueling. It will put you and your loved one to the test. Not everything will go smoothly. There will be a lot to do, and seeing your loved one go through treatment will be emotionally draining. Especially from surgery on, your loved one won’t feel up to dealing with much.

But, all along the way there will be caring, compassionate health care providers to guide you. And family, friends, and neighbours, sometimes the ones you least expect, will be there to provide support and assistance.

Words of encouragement

This is a time to keep faith, endure, and do the next thing. Somehow, one day at a time, you and your loved one will make it through treatment and recovery. You can get through this.

Be a good listener and let them direct the conversation – let them decide if they want to talk about the cancer. Remember to respect their privacy and don`t pry for details, but assure them you are there for them whenever they need you.

Take care of yourself

Treatment takes a long time. Recovery takes several more months. You have to be in this for the long haul. Be sure to take the time to eat well, exercise and do something for yourself.

We recommend these tools to refresh your mind, body and soul during this journey with your loved one (via Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support).

  • 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.
  • 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. To find online support groups near you, visit Caregiving Support Groups and Online Forums at the end of this section.
  • 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 may also gain some understanding.

For meditation and relaxation techniques, click here.

  • 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.
  • 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 completing 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.
  • 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.

Care coordination

Stomach cancer treatment involves a lot of health care providers. One of the important roles of the caregiver is care coordination: keeping track of appointments, getting prescriptions filled, answering questions posed by health care providers, and all the other details that need to be attended to as part of treatment. At times, particularly in the weeks after surgery, it can seem like a full-time job.

Ideally, you will attend all appointments with your loved one. Keep a detailed agenda including all appointments, treatments and day-to-day tasks such as picking the kids up from school, groceries, or reminding your loved one to take their medication. It is also good to keep a log of things like chemo side effects or what your loved one is eating after surgery. You and the health care providers can figure things out better when you can answer questions like, “When did the diarrhea start?”

It you don’t have a healthcare or at least a science background, you may want to involve a friend, neighbour, or relative who does. Perhaps this person can attend some appointments with you and your loved one. At least they could be available to help you understand and sort through information that is foreign to you.

Troubleshooting: As the caregiver, you will be troubleshooting everything from mouth sores during chemo, to a possible infection after surgery, to mechanical problems with a feeding tube pump.

This can be a very stressful responsibility. You will need to make judgment calls as to when to call the doctor’s office, clinic, or home health agency for help. And of course we all know that such things tend to come up just after offices have closed on Friday afternoon or in the middle of the night. Fortunately, most providers of cancer treatment have staff on call for such occasions.

Caregiving after surgery: This will be one of the most demanding times for you. Your loved one won’t be able to help with household chores. You will have a lot of hands-on caregiving to do such as take care of the surgery incision site, preparing tube feedings or Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), and fixing those “many small meals a day.”

The hands-on caregiving can seem intimidating but nurses and others from a home health agency or your doctor’s office will be there to help you know what to do.

Get some help: Caregiving can be a full-time, around the clock job and it can sometimes be overwhelming. This is the time to accept help. Don`t be afraid to ask a relative, friend or neighbour for some additional help with caregiving for your loved one. They may not be able to be a part of your loved one’s care every day, but perhaps a friend can come once a week for three or four hours so that you can take time for yourself.

Schedule a little “normal” time for yourself–go for a walk with a friend, take a break and read a couple of chapters of a good book, enjoy some comfort food.

Don’t burn yourself out now! You’ve still got a ways to go yet.

Caregiving during the next year

After treatment, you are ready to put down the burdens of caregiving and get back to your life. You would like to enjoy mealtime again, go out to eat upon occasion, have friends over for dinner, all those social rituals that revolve around sharing food and mealtime. But that time has not come yet.

There isn’t much care coordination or physical caregiving to do, but your loved one doesn’t feel good, has no energy, is not able to eat very much, and has a lot of side effects from eating. This is hard on your loved one and hard on you.

You may feel very alone. Health care providers don’t need to see you very often and probably won’t be able to help you very much anyway. Your friends and relatives may not realize how hard things still are and how much emotional support you still need.

To find the support you and your loved one may need, reach out to a local stomach cancer support group, join an online forum for stomach cancer survivors and caregivers, or voice your struggles with a friend, relative or neighbour. Below is a list of stomach cancer caregiving support groups and online forums.

One day, you will realize that your life has returned to normal. You need to remember, it will get better! Keep repeating this to yourself.

These tips were taken from Stomach Cancer Survivor`s Guide.

Caregiving Support Groups and Online Forums

Cancer Chat Canada – An online network offers groups to patients and support persons. Call 1-877-547-3777 local 645234 or 604-851-4710 local 645234 to register. – An online community of discussions narrated by stomach cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.

The Caregiver Network – broadcasts programming for the benefit of caregiving Canadians.

Cancer Survivors Network – A forum for cancer discussions.

Saint Elizabeth Caring for Caregiver Resource Centre A website designed to give providers of caregiver education and support programs access to evidence-based resources, tools, and knowledge-exchange opportunities to help them meet the needs of family caregivers.