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A Labor of Love: Being a Caregiver for a Loved One with Cancer

Adrienne and Zach Douglas.

In July 2019, Adrienne Douglas of Cedar Rapids was thrust into a role not many 25-year-olds are asked to take on: being a caregiver for her 39-year-old husband Zach following his stage IV colon cancer diagnosis. Adrienne walked alongside Zach through his hard-fought two-and-a-half-year battle until his unfortunate passing in April of 2022. Now she’s sharing her experience as a caregiver in hopes that it will help others in a similar situation.

Jumping the Initial Hurdles

When a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, the patient and their loved ones start thinking of the many challenges that could arise. For the Douglas’, the first concern was financial.

“I didn’t know how much it would cost,” shared Douglas. “Zach was super sick and couldn’t work and I had to take a lot of time off to take care of him.”

At the Nassif Community Cancer Center, oncology social workers are available to help patients and families navigate challenges like these.

“One of the first things I do when I introduce myself is let them know I’m here for extra support for the patient and family,” explained Nancy Yeisley, MSW, LISW, OSW-C, oncology social worker at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. “This wasn’t about helping Zach or Adrienne. It was about how to help the two of them because they’re together in this.”

Yeisley was able to help Zach and Adrienne access some financial resources they may not have otherwise been able to access, which helped alleviate some of the burden.

“Nancy was able to recommend what resources would best help us,” recalled Douglas. “We had to face the hurdle of us being pretty young, so we weren’t eligible for certain benefits. She was able to help us apply for Social Security disability, as well as long-term disability, which was a great help.”

Adrienne’s Advice for Other Caregivers

The biggest piece of advice Douglas would give others in a similar situation would be to take care of yourself and ask for help when you need it.

“It sounds really cliché, but you can’t take care of somebody else if you aren’t taking care of yourself,” she said. “I made that mistake and got severe caregiver burnout. Eventually I learned to say ‘Hey, I need to take a few hours for myself, can someone please drive my husband to chemo today while I go to Target and blow off some steam.’”

Yeisley agrees with that advice.

“It’s hard, because your instinct is ‘I want to be the one taking care of him. I’m his wife,’” she said. “Or the feeling of ‘How can I worry about how much sleep I’m getting when he’s going through all this,’ but then you realize, ‘Wait a minute, I won’t be able to take care of him if I don’t take care of myself.’”

Lessons Learned from a Labor of Love

Douglas learned a lot about Zach throughout the journey and was inspired by his strength.

“He was just so strong. I knew he was in pain and tired, but he kept so upbeat and managed to be the light of the room,” she recalled. “I think that affected everyone around him. From his caregivers like me to his medical caregivers. He was definitely an inspiration.”

She learned a lot about herself too.

“There were days when Zach would have an allergic reaction to chemo and I’d take him to the ER or he wasn’t feeling well so I’d take the day off work and care for him,” Douglas shared. “I learned I had a lot more patience than I thought I did, and if you love that person enough, it’s all worth it.”

Podcast Episode: Being a Caregiver for a Loved One with Cancer

Adrienne Douglas talks about her experience being a caregiver for Zach. Nancy Yeisley discusses the resources available to patients and caregivers.


Don’t go Through it Alone

The Nassif Community Cancer Center offers a variety of resources for caregivers to provide support along the journey.

“We help patients and caregivers connect with people on a similar journey and with similar experiences. This can be one-on-one in person, by phone or online,” shared Yeisley. “We also offer caregiver retreats a couple times a year in partnership with St. Luke’s Palliative Care.”

Douglas hopes those who hear her story will seek out these opportunities to connect with others and care for themselves.

“My husband was always so transparent about having cancer and that inspired me to be transparent about my caregiving journey, as well as my grief journey,” said Douglas. “As caregivers we can feel pretty alone, and so I thought if I can share my story and let others know what they are feeling is normal, maybe that could help somebody.”

Face Cancer, and Caregiving, with Confidence

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or are caring for a loved one with cancer, the Nassif Community Cancer Center is here to help you face the cancer journey with confidence. For more information on caregiving resources, support services and treatment options, call us today at (319) 558-4876 or visit


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