The Unbearable Anxiety Experienced by Cancer Caregivers

A woman explains how pushing her anxiety aside to care for her sister with cancer was not good for her own health. “I wondered about all the other caregivers out there. I wondered if they, too, were suffering in silence because they did not want to draw focus away from the person they were caring for,” she writes.

I have always been anxious, so when people told me that being a caregiver would increase my anxiety, I did not give it much thought. At first, I was so concerned with navigating all the changes that come with cancer that I did not have time to think about much else. The more time spent in the hospital, during the quiet nights, I had so much time to think about cancer and what having a sister with cancer really meant. I began to feel more anxious, but I tried to write it off as my usual anxiety.

It would come and go for a while, but a few months in, and anytime we went to the clinic, I felt restless. My leg would shake uncontrollably, and the nausea was unmanageable. All the while, I tried to convince myself that I was OK. This wasn't about me; this was about my sister because she was the one who had cancer. It was nearly a year after her diagnosis that I went to see a doctor and told her all that I had been feeling.

She sat quietly and listened to me as I shared all the difficulties I had experienced as a caregiver. How much stress I had, the immense guilt I carried as her power of attorney, and the choices I was making because of the complications that my sister was experiencing. How much anger I had towards cancer and the world for what was happening. When I was done, she told me that I should see a therapist, and what I was feeling was entirely normal. I was shocked to be told that what I was going through was normal. I did not understand that being a caregiver meant going through all of what my sister did, only without being the one with cancer.

When I left that appointment, I wondered about all the other caregivers out there. I wondered if they, too, were suffering in silence because they did not want to draw focus away from the person they were caring for. I had been told that I should practice self-care, but it was the first thing to get skipped over on the long list of things that I needed to do at the end of the day. While I do not think that practicing self-care would have completely taken away the anxiety that I endured, I believe that it could have significantly lessened some of what I experienced. Looking back, I wish that I had spoken up sooner about struggling so that I could have received help sooner than I did. I hope that by speaking up and sharing my experience, other caregivers will also seek the support and help that they may need.

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