Have you recently become a caregiver to someone with breast cancer? When it comes to learning how to support breast cancer patients as the primary caregiver, you may need help understanding your role, getting support for your loved one, and getting support for yourself. Here’s everything you need to know, and the next steps to take.
Understand Your New Role As A Caregiver
What exactly does being a caregiver entail? How does this affect you, your loved one, and the world around both of you? The first part of becoming a caregiver is understanding your role and what support you can offer.
Who goes to doctor’s appointments?
This is an important question to ask. Does your loved one want you to join them and be with them during their medical appointments? Will they let you talk to their doctor on their behalf? Are you scheduling the appointments? What happens when they start chemo or radiation therapy?
Ask your loved one how involved they want you to be during their treatment and how best you can support them.
How do you handle the treatment decisions?
Even if you can share the decision-making, your spouse, partner, or family member is the one on the front line of treatments, medications, and cancer. So at the end of the day, their decision is the final say — even if you disagree.
This can be hard to cope with, especially if you want them to feel better and be able to provide, what you think, is the best care. But, it’s ultimately up to them, and they should be able to make their own decisions accordingly.
However, you can always ask if they need your help or support. If not, take a step back and support them in their decision. If so, be sure to talk with them about every piece of their treatment to make sure you have their ongoing consent.
One of the things you can try when supporting your loved one is helping them take care of the paperwork. Cancer treatment involves a lot of it, and that doesn’t include the paperwork from other areas of life, like bills. Ask them if they’d like to offload that work to you.
Know That Emotional and Physical Support May Take A Toll
Just because you’re a caregiver, and your loved one is going through cancer, that doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings and needs too. And you shouldn’t feel guilty for needing support, love, and attention. Emotionally and physically supporting someone with breast cancer can be exhausting, especially if you’re close and you don’t have much support from your community.
If you need support, try to find a support group in your community. There may even be one for caregivers. And, don’t be afraid to look into therapy too. Again, there is nothing wrong with needing a bit of help. As a caregiver, it can seem like your whole life revolves around your loved one, but that’s not the case. Your health, both mental and physical, matters too. Don’t neglect yourself in order to feel like you’re being a “better” caregiver.
Things To Do
Now that you know the basics of being a caregiver, let’s talk about some practical steps you can take. These can help you plan better, not feel so overwhelmed, and make life easier for both you and your loved one.
Take Leave From Work
Did you know that you can qualify for benefits as a caregiver? Don’t let them go to waste!
For one, you can talk with a social worker about the benefits that both you and your loved one qualify for. An example would be the Family and Medical Leave Act. This federal law entitles you to unpaid leave from your job in order to care for your loved one, without fear that you’ll lose your job.
And your loved one may have some benefits as well. They may qualify for disability, get their medical expenses paid for, and get financial support in other ways too. Don’t be afraid to look into the benefits you both qualify for. The support is there, and neither of you has to do all of it alone.
Discuss Side Effects With Loved One
If you’ve never been through cancer yourself, you may not know where to start with anything. And, there is a lot of fear right after a diagnosis, for the both of you. So, if you’re not sure about technical terms, outlooks, or what you need to do to support your loved one, ask them.
Do they need physical support due to their side effects? Do they just need a listening ear? What do they need you to do during different times? Discuss and ask these questions with your loved one, so you can support them better.
Find Local Support From Friends/Family/Community
While it’s important for you to have a support system as a caregiver, it’s also crucial to find support for your loved one. Can they go to a support group? Are their friends and family that bring them joy and can offer them assistance, love, and solace? Be sure to look for local support for them as well.
Figure Out Household Chores
A breast cancer diagnosis can mean tons of medical appointments and treatments, along with side effects from medications and everything else that comes along. So most likely, your loved one isn’t going to be able to keep up with household chores, especially if they were the main carer of the house.
Now is the time to figure out the household chores. This doesn’t mean you have to take them on all by yourself. Can family or friends help out from time to time? Can you afford a house cleaner once or twice a month to do the “deep cleaning”? Do you have older children that can take on a bit more responsibility for the time being? It’s okay to get help if you know you and your loved one won’t be able to do it all.
Figure Out Childcare
If you have younger children, you’ll also want to figure out childcare. This may be enrolling them in an after-school program, or hiring a nanny or babysitter during the times you know you and your loved one won’t be around. Of course, if you have family and friends nearby, you can also ask them (although you shouldn’t pressure!).
Something else you can look into is social services in your area. These services can help with shopping, household chores, and even aid in applying for benefits. This can give you more time back in your day to focus on the kids.
And, there are other support programs that help too, including the Nanny Angel Network. Many of these networks are free and help take care of children during cancer treatment.
Start Long-Term Planning
No one wants to worry about the future when dealing with cancer — that alone is exhausting. However, long-term planning can be a lifesaver once treatment is over. It’s best to prepare for the “best” and “worst” of what could happen.
What happens if your loved one has treatment for the rest of their life? What if they experienced side effects due to treatment? What do you do if treatment isn’t working and they’re moved to hospice? These aren’t easy questions to ask, but they can help you prepare for all different scenarios.
Then, make a plan of what you’ll do as their caregiver. Will you go back to work? Retire? Move in order to be closer to doctors? It may be best to talk to a financial planner as well as a social worker about what you’ll need to plan for.
Have A Realistic Attitude
Don’t let fear-mongering affect how you see your loved one and their condition. Realistically, 90% of women recover from breast cancer and survive for at least five years, and many live much much longer. However, this doesn’t mean that they will be exactly the same as before.
Instead, have a realistic attitude about the possibilities and treatment plan. Feel free to ask questions (if your loved one has given consent) from their doctor or team when needed. And don’t be afraid to look at things with a sense of pragmaticism.
Understand That Life Changes Forever
When someone has cancer, their life is split into three parts — life before, life during, and life after. It’s essential to not focus on the past and “what could have been” had cancer not happened. Instead, know that life changes forever, both in good and not so good ways.
Your loved one may have some long-term side effects after treatment. Or maybe they have a new lease on life and are more carefree than before. Or even the opposite, maybe they’re more cautious now! There is no right or wrong way to live after cancer. There’s just your loved one and their changes. And that’s okay.
Focus On Nutrition
Last but not least, be sure to focus on the health and nutrition of both you and your loved one. This doesn’t mean that you have to go on an extreme diet and exercise regimen. And it also doesn’t mean you have to give up things you love.
However, it may be worth looking into supplements that make you both feel better. Just be sure to talk to their doctor about what they can and cannot take. Also, try to get in plenty of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, and protein to help your loved one feel their best.
How To Support Breast Cancer Patients As A Caregiver: Final Thoughts
There is a lot to think about and do when you become your loved one’s caregiver. However, it’s possible to know how to support breast cancer patients, as well as yourself, and get the help you both need. You don’t have to do any of this alone, and neither do they. Both of you can take this moment in your journey and roll with it. It just takes a little knowledge, a bit of grit, and lots of love.