Caregivers play an important role in the lives of people with renal cell carcinoma, a common type of kidney cancer. They provide practical assistance, as well as emotional support.
While being a caregiver can be very rewarding, the role also comes with many challenges. Understanding what to expect when your loved one goes through treatment can help you plan ahead.
Keep reading to learn about what’s involved with being a caregiver for someone with renal cell carcinoma, along with tips on how to best manage the challenges.
Learning about renal cell carcinoma can help you understand what your loved one might experience. It will also help you prepare for changes they may go through over time.
Your loved one may not notice any symptoms of kidney cancer at first. But as renal cell carcinoma progresses, they may experience:
- chronic pain in their side
- weight loss
- bloody urine
- trouble seeing
- a mass in their abdomen
- loss of appetite
People with cancer may also go through emotional changes as they cope with their condition. Some days, they may be upbeat and optimistic, while other days might involve anger, sadness, and fear.
These emotions are understandable, and while you might not always know the best way to address them, simply listening to their experience and feelings can help them feel supported.
As you continue learning about renal cell carcinoma, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with cancer is unique. Information about the disease and how it affects the body can give you a general picture of kidney cancer, but it is not necessarily a roadmap of what you and your loved one can expect.
Caregivers can also experience information overload if they spend too much time researching the disease. Cancer comes with many unknowns, and learning about every possible complication can contribute to worry and personal stress.
The key is to try to strike a balance. It’s helpful to know enough about the disease to be a reliable resource for your loved one. But try not to read so much that you end up with an extra layer of emotional stress.
The role of caring for someone with renal cell carcinoma can often be a cross between a companion and a home health aide.
While no two caregivers have the exact same list of duties and responsibilities, you will probably need to provide practical help around the home, emotional support, and even some basic medical care.
Here are some common ways caregivers help people with renal cell carcinoma:
Helping with daily life
Everyday chores and grooming can be difficult for someone coping with renal cell carcinoma or undergoing treatment. Caregivers can make things easier by helping with tasks like:
- meal preparation
- bathing, grooming, and dressing
- using the restroom
- household chores
- shopping for necessities
- running errands
- paying bills and monitoring household budgets
- handling insurance claims
- taking care of legal documents
Helping with medical treatment
While members of a cancer care team are the main people responsible for medical treatment, caregivers sometimes provide extra assistance by:
- preparing and administering medications
- picking up prescriptions
- making medical appointments
- driving to doctor’s appointments
- participating in treatment discussions
- monitoring the person’s health and noting changes
- coordinating medical care between specialists
- advocating for the person with cancer
- talking with doctors about changes in symptoms
Providing emotional support
Reliable emotional support from a caregiver can make a positive impact on a person with renal cell carcinoma. Your loved one may cope with a range of challenging emotions.
The American Cancer Society recommends that caregivers let their loved ones take the lead when talking about their experience. Sometimes, simply sitting together in silence can help them gather their thoughts.
When they are ready to talk, try to practice active listening. Be present, maintain eye contact, and ask questions as they come up.
Try to avoid giving advice. As much as you might want to offer suggestions or solve problems, you can’t change the current circumstances. Instead, work to help them find acceptance.
You might not always know exactly what to say — and that’s OK. Showing your loved one compassion is one of the best things you can do as a caregiver.
Taking care of someone with renal cell carcinoma can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being.
Nearly 4 in 10 caregivers say that the role is highly stressful, according to a 2020 report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute.
The same study also showed that nearly 70 percent of caregivers say their duties cause some or a lot of physical strain. That’s why it’s important to address your own needs and take time for self-care.
Here are some ways to support yourself while caring for someone with cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
- Relax for 15 to 30 minutes every day. Watch your favorite TV show, practice yoga, read a novel, or go for a walk. In whatever way makes sense for you, take time to recharge daily.
- Connect with friends. While you might not be able to socialize as much as usual while caring for a loved one with cancer, it’s still important to make time for your friends and loved ones. They can be an essential source of support for you as you cope with the challenges of caregiving.
- Try to stick with your routine. Some change in routine is inevitable when you start caregiving, but too much disruption can add to your stress. Maintaining daily activities, such as making your favorite breakfast, can reinforce your sense of consistency.
- Ask for help. You don’t have to take care of everything on your own. Reaching out for help with things like making meals, driving to appointments, or updating relatives about your loved one’s condition can free up time for you to take care of yourself.
- Connect with a support group. Often one of the best sources of comfort is people who are also providing care to others with a serious illness. Talk with your doctor about local support groups in your community, or consider online options like the Kidney Cancer Association’s Inspire community.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to self-care, so try a few different things to see what works best for you. It will help ensure you have the emotional and physical resources required to support your loved one over the long term.
Treatment options and the outlook for your loved one’s disease will depend on many factors, including the size of the tumors and whether cancer has spread beyond the kidneys.
Surgery is usually the first-line treatment for kidney cancer. This surgery might remove just the cancer and surrounding tissues, or the entire kidney and possibly the adrenal glands and lymph nodes, depending on the person’s condition.
Other possible treatments for renal cell carcinoma include:
- radiation therapy
- targeted therapy
- chemotherapy (in rare cases)
The cancer care team will explain what each treatment involves and the side effects you should look out for.
Keep in mind that it’s never too early for someone with cancer to start palliative care. This type of care is often given with other cancer treatments. It focuses on relieving symptoms and improving a person’s quality of life while coping with a disease.
Talk with a member of the cancer care team to explore palliative care options for your loved one.
Most caregivers hope for clear answers about the outlook for their loved ones. In general, the earlier the stage of kidney cancer, the better the outlook. Doctors estimate the kidney cancer stage by looking at how big the tumors are and how far the cancer has spread.
After cancer goes away, there’s a chance it will come back. That risk gets lower the longer a person is cancer-free. Your loved one may get regular cancer screenings after recovering from treatment to check for signs that the cancer has returned.
Caring for someone with renal cell carcinoma can be both a rewarding and challenging journey.
You may need to help with daily chores, drive your loved one to medical appointments, communicate with members of the care team, and provide emotional support.
Despite the long list of tasks, it’s important to carve out time for yourself every day. Practicing self-care can help you avoid caregiving burnout and get the support you need.
Remember: You don’t have to take care of everything on your own. Reach out for help from friends and relatives when you need it.