10 Helpful Tips for Cancer Caregivers


A retired oncology social worker shares some helpful tips for being a supportive caregiver while also maintaining your own well-being. “Caregiving is compassion in action,” he writes.

It may be a child with a broken arm, a spouse with a knee replacement or a friend with a debilitating condition. It could be a neighbor with a mental illness, a family member with cancer or a war-injured veteran. It could be time-limited or an ongoing need. Regardless of the illness, injury or disease, caregiving needs are ubiquitous. Yes, it’s part of parenting, marriage and friendship – but it’s still caregiving. As Rosalynn Carter wrote over 25 years ago, if you haven’t been one before and you aren’t a caregiver now, you will be some time in the future.

By definition, a caregiver is any person helping another person to care for themselves. Such care is always physical and emotional but can be spiritual too. Caregivers can be health care professionals being paid to provide the care, those who are privately hired and everyone else doing so as a volunteer. Be it formal or informal, paid or unpaid, friend or family, to the young or elderly, caregiving is a service being given to someone in need. It is setting aside your needs to help another. Caregiving is kindness and compassion in action.

Being a caregiver can be challenging, time-consuming and fraught with frustration. While not every caregiving situation is the same, the number one recommendation by every organization providing guidance and support to caregivers is simply this: take care of yourself first.

The obvious reason for this advice is that if you don’t take care for yourself first, you won’t be at your best as a caregiver nor be able to sustain yourself in that role. Self-care is knowing your limitations and not exceeding them. It’s doing things you enjoy that rejuvenate yourself. And self-care is learning to do new things that make caregiving easier.

Here are a few more suggestions to increase caregiving success:

1) Be proactive. Anticipate needs and plan ahead.

2) Be patient. Don’t expect everything to go as smoothly or as quickly as you would like. Don’t allow frustration to cause contention.

3) Forgive yourself and the person receiving your care. Mistakes happen. Things are forgotten. Words are often spoken without thinking. Apologize if needed or forgive and go on.

4) Let go of anger. No caregiving relationship is improved by remaining angry. Learn to express these feelings when appropriate and with whom it is best to do so. Then move ahead.

5) Be a good listener. Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Look for the meaning of things not verbalized. Ask for clarification whenever needed.

6) Stay focused on the here and now. Give 100% of your attention to your duties. Set aside your issues and deal with them later – but deal with them.

7) Share the responsibilities. Get others involved. Learn to delegate. Lighten your load.

8) Attend a support group or join one online. It’s cathartic to express feelings and concerns with others. They can offer intuitive suggestions and understanding support.

9) Remember, asking for help is a strength, not a sign of weakness or failure. Don’t allow feeling overwhelmed to interfere with success in your role. Get help.

10) Be sure to care for yourself. Eat well. Get lots of rest. Exercise daily. Find and enjoy humorous things. Laugh a lot!

The following organizations provide caregiving information and resources:

  • AARP Family Caregiving – (877) 333-5885
  • Caregiver Action Network – (855) CARE-640
  • Family Caregiver Alliance – (800) 445-8106
  • The National Alliance for Caregiving – (202) 918-1013
  • National Volunteer Caregiving Network – (512) 582-2197
  • VA Caregiver Support Line – (855) 260-3274

In addition, there are many national organizations that are diagnosis-specific such as the American Cancer Society – (800) ACS-2345. They have information tailored to the caregiver of someone living with cancer.

November is National Family Caregivers Month. But one month of honoring those who provide loving attention and compassionate care to another is not enough. Most caregivers do not get the recognition their caregiving deserves. So, another suggestion to enhance being a caregiver is to acknowledge to yourself that you are valued as a caregiver and regardless of how little thanks or honor you are given, you know it is needed and appreciated by many. In other words, treat yourself lovingly the same way you care for another… and do it year-round.

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