Being a Caregiver is a Challenging Job

Michelle RooneyBy: Michelle Rooney, NP

Caring for a loved one who is diagnosed with cancer is tough physically, mentally and emotionally. What defines a caregiver? Caregivers are family members, friends and loved ones who provide full and part time support for a cancer patient. They do this through preparing food, running errands, helping with doctors appointments and treatment, coordinating care, cleaning, and offering emotional support for not only the patient but for the other people involved in their treatment. The opportunities to care for someone suffering from cancer, in any capacity, are endless.

Being a caregiver is a challenging job. We want to share with you some helpful tips and resources for taking care of yourself, and being better prepared to care for those you love. Remember, everyone’s situation is individual and unique, so some of these may not apply to you.

Be open and communicate. Communication is key, not only your loved one, but with their healthcare team, other caregivers, and people who are connected to the cancer patient. It can take time to figure out communication styles that work best for you, but keeping everyone up to date on the care of your loved one and their needs will provide you more help and understanding from those around you. One effective and efficient method that is becoming more widely used is to create a blog or webpage for your loved one. Most of these sites are free and easy to setup and manage. Carepages and CaringBridge are two popular sites to blog on.

Be HIPAA compliant. Often as a loved one’s health declines, they need more help. If you are the primary caretaker, or someone who is helping with doctors visits, treatment, medication or other medical support, it is important the patient has signed paperwork allowing you access to their medical information (HIPAA). Having this release will allow you to be in exams with the patient, to help by taking notes, and if necessary, communicate with the medical team. You will be enabled as the patient’s advocate; having the ability to ask questions they may forget or feel too overwhelmed to ask, have treatment options explained, communicate with others what prognosis and plans are in place, and comfort the patient. This HIPAA form is usually signed during the registration process but can be updated at anytime.

Stay organized. This is easier for some individuals than others, but the effort is worth it. Take notes as you would for your own care. Keep track of medications, vitals, labs and other tests, which can help everyone understand the illness and the treatment. Keeping all of the information organized is also helpful when you need help from other caregivers. Having all of the information accessible makes an easy transition for other people to help give medications, take the patient to appointments and adjust to their needs.

Ask for help. Not only should you rely on the support of the patient’s friends and family, but of your own. Battling cancer is a community effort and you need people to talk to as well, so talk to friends, family or a professional when you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or having trouble meeting the needs of yourself and your loved one.

Take breaks and take care of yourself. As a primary caretaker, spending time doing something for yourself can feel strange and selfish. But, you must make time to take care of yourself so that you are physically and mentally strong for your loved one. Doing something you enjoy, whether it be exercise, cooking, reading or sleeping will be rejuvenating and refreshing. You will be healthier and happier, and your loved one will benefit from renewed energy.

These are just a few tips and resources to help caregiving go a little easier. There are many more aspects of caretaking that were not listed and many that will be unique to your situation. If you have any questions, or feel you need support please contact the Cancer Support Community. We have a local chapter in Walnut Creek: 3276 McNutt Ave Walnut Creek, CA 94597 – (925) 933-0107.