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Adjusting to Being a Caregiver

Adjusting to Being a Caregiver

Giving care and support during this time can be a challenge. Many caregivers put their own needs and feelings aside to focus on the person with cancer. This can be hard to maintain for a long time, and it’s not good for your health. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others. It’s important for everyone that you give care to you.

Changing Roles

Whether you’re younger or older, you may find yourself in a new role as a caregiver. You may have been an active part of someone’s life before cancer, but perhaps now the way you support that person is different. It may be in a way in which you haven’t had much experience, or in a way that feels more intense than before. Even though caregiving may feel new to you now, many caregivers say that they learn more as they go through their loved one’s cancer experience. Common situations that they describe:

  • Your spouse or partner may feel comfortable with only you taking care of him.
  • Your parent may have a hard time accepting help from you (her adult child) since she’s always been used to caring for you.
  • Your adult child with cancer may not want to rely on his parents for care.
  • You may have health problems yourself, making it hard physically and emotionally to take care of someone else.

Whatever your roles are now, accepting the changes may be tough. It’s very common to feel confused and stressed at this time. If you can, try to share your feelings with others or a join support group. Or you may choose to seek help from a counselor.

“Mom was always the rock in the family. Now it’s almost as though we’re the parents and she’s the child. It’s hard because we have our own children to take care of and jobs to go to.”


Ask for Help

Many caregivers say that, looking back, they took too much on themselves. Or they wish they had asked for help sooner. Take an honest look at what you can and can’t do. What things do you need or want to do yourself? What tasks can you turn over or share with others? Be willing to let go of things that aren’t essential for you to do. Some examples may be:

  • Helping with chores, such as cooking , cleaning, shopping, or yard work
  • Taking care of the kids or picking them up from school or activities
  • Driving your loved one to appointments or picking up medicines
  • Being the contact person to keep others updated

Accepting help from others isn’t always easy. When tough things happen, many people tend to pull away. They think, “We can handle this on our own.” But things can get harder as the patient goes through treatment. You may need to change your schedule and take on new tasks. As a result, many caregivers have said, “There’s just too much on my plate.”

Remember that getting help for yourself can also help your loved one because:

  • You may stay healthier.
  • Your loved one may feel less guilty about all the things that you’re doing.
  • Some of your helpers may offer time and skills that you don’t have.

Be Prepared for Some People to Say No

“We’ve gotten lots of support, and some of it comes from people we expected it from. But a lot has come from those we don’t know very well. And others we do know well have stayed away. You just never know with people.”


Sometimes people may not be able to help. This may hurt your feelings or make you angry. It may be especially hard coming from people that you expected help from. You might wonder why someone wouldn’t offer to help you. Some common reasons are:

  • Some people may be coping with their own problems.
  • Some may have a lack of time.
  • They are afraid of cancer or may have already had a bad experience with cancer. They don’t want to get involved and feel pain all over again.
  • Some people believe it’s best to keep a distance when people are struggling.
  • Sometimes people don’t realize how hard things really are for you. Or they don’t understand that you need help unless you ask them for it directly.
  • Some people feel awkward because they don’t know how to show they care.

If someone isn’t giving you the help you need, you may want to talk to them and explain your needs. Or you can just let it go. But if the relationship is important, you may want to tell the person how you feel. This can help prevent resentment or stress from building up. These feelings could hurt your relationship in the long run.

This article was obtained from the National Cancer Institute. For more information on this article or other resources available through NCI please go to


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