It’s one thing to say you’ll take care of somebody when they’re feeling under the weather. But it’s another to say you’ll become somebody’s caregiver when they have advanced breast cancer. You have a big role to play in their treatment and overall well-being. In order not to get overwhelmed, we created this guide just for you. Read on to learn tips and find ways to manage it all.
Start by making it a partnership
If you’re the main caregiver for a loved one, then you’re in this together. Honest, open communication is the only way to go. Here are a few tips for getting your partnership off on the right foot:
- Ask rather than assume what’s needed. It’ll make things easier for both of you.
- Offer tohelp with certain practical matters such as medical paperwork, but let them do things for themselves when they want to. Don’t make them more dependent than they need to be.
- Respect your loved one’s choices about treatment, care, and who they want to see.
- Share feelings. Allow your loved one to talk about their emotions without feeling judged. It’s important to share your feelings too. Don’t let your caregiver-patient role overtake your relationship.
Learn about advanced breast cancer
When caring for a loved one with advanced breast cancer, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the disease. As it progresses, you’ll have some idea what to expect so you’re not caught off guard.
Here are some of the changes you might see in someone with advanced cancer:
- lack of appetite
- weight loss
- extreme fatigue
- poor concentration
- growing pain and discomfort
Mood swings aren’t uncommon. Good moods might alternate with sadness, anger, fear, and frustration. They may worry about becoming a burden on you and the rest of the family.
These are all normal reactions to the situation. But there may be times when you’re not sure what to do. That’s OK.
You’re a caregiver, but you’re also human. You’re not expected to be perfect. Trust your instincts and reach out for help when you need it.
Enlist a help squad
You may be the main caregiver, but you certainly don’t have to be the only caregiver. Tell family and friends that you need help. Some will offer, but a general request doesn’t always get through. Spell out exactly what you need and when you need it. Be direct.
There are caregiving tools that can help you do that with a minimum of fuss.
Several organizations provide online caregiving calendars that let others claim duties on specific days and times, so you can plan on doing something else.
To save you the chore of keeping everyone updated on an individual basis, these sites also allow you to create your own web page. Then you can post status updates and photos. You decide who has access to the page. Guests can leave comments and sign up to lend a helping hand. It can be a real time saver.
Check out some of these sites:
As the disease progresses, think about home health care and hospice options so you’re not overwhelmed with responsibility.
Identify your own needs — and tend to them
Caregiving is a loving, rewarding act, but one you probably didn’t plan on. It starts with providing a little help, but can turn into a full-time job before you know it. When someone you love has advanced cancer, it takes an emotional toll on you, too.
While you’re tending to their physical and emotional needs, you also have your own feelings to deal with. You may sometimes wonder if you’re up to the challenge. The fact is that nobody can keep it up all day, every day, without feeling the stress.
When’s the last time you had some “me time”? If your answer is that you don’t remember, or that it isn’t important, maybe you should reconsider. If you don’t find an outlet for your stress, you probably won’t be the best caregiver you can be. It’s not selfish, and there’s no reason to feel guilty. It’s about the bigger picture.
Ask yourself what you need, whether it’s curling up with a good book or hitting the town. It can be a short break for a walk every day, one evening out, or a whole day all to yourself.
What matters is that you choose this block of time and make it happen. Mark it on your calendar and consider it part of your to-do list. Then find someone to cover for you while you rejuvenate.
After your break, you’ll have something new to share with your loved one.
Recognize the signs of stress
If you’re under prolonged stress, you could end up with some health problems of your own. Here are some symptoms of stress:
- unexplained pains
- fatigue or sleep difficulties
- stomach upset
- fading sex drive
- trouble focusing
- irritability or sadness
Other indications that you’re stressed are:
- under- or overeating
- social withdrawal
- lack of motivation
- smoking or drinking more than ever
If you have some of these symptoms, it’s time to think about stress management. Consider:
- improving your diet
- relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga
- spending time with friends and enjoying favorite activities
- counseling or caregiver support groups
If physical symptoms of stress continue, see your physician before it gets out of hand.
Reach out for caregiver support
Sometimes it helps when you can talk to someone else who’s in a similar situation. Other primary caregivers get it in way that no one else can. They can probably offer you a few helpful hints on how to make life easier. Support groups are a great place to get support, but you’ll soon realize you can give some too.
Your local hospital may be able to refer you to an in-person caregiver support group. If not, you may be able to connect with others through these organizations:
- CancerCare — Caregiving provides free, professional support services for caregivers and loved ones, including counseling and support groups.
- Caregiver Action Network provides free education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers across the country.
Are your caregiving duties forcing you to take time off work? Find out if you’re eligible for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.