Patient Support and Services : Caregiver Information

Caregiver Information


Caregivers may be partners, family members, or close friends. Most often, they’re not trained for the caregiver job. Many times, they’re the lifeline of the person with cancer.
Caregivers have many roles. These roles change as the patient’s needs change during and after cancer treatment. Today a lot of cancer care is done in outpatient treatment centers and doctors’ offices. This means that sicker people are being cared for at home.
As a caregiver, you have a huge influence – both positive and negative – on how the cancer patient deals with their illness. Your encouragement can help the patient stick with a demanding treatment plan and take other steps to get well, like eating healthy meals or getting enough rest.


The caregiver is part of a cancer care team made up of the patient, other family and friends, and the medical staff. As a caregiver, you may find yourself working closely with the cancer care team, doing things like:
• Giving drugs
• Managing side effects
• Reporting problems
• Trying to keep other family members and friends informed of what’s happening
• Helping to decide whether a treatment is working
Caregivers often have to keep track of prescriptions, know which tests are to be done, and make sure all involved doctors know what’s going on. A good caregiver is a vital health care resource. In many cases, the caregiver is the one person who knows everything that’s going on with the patient. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take notes during doctor visits. Learn who the members of the cancer care team are and know how to contact them. Getting the right support and information can help both you and your loved one with cancer.


The person with cancer faces many new challenges. As the caregiver you can help the patient deal with these challenges and get through any problems that come up.
Help address their concerns by pointing out that the patient will need to be in the hospital for only a short time until antibiotic treatment has the infection under control.
Make sure that the patient has everything they need while in the hospital, including doctor’s prescriptions for non-cancer related medicines taken at home, such as thyroid or blood pressure medicine.
Call all the doctors involved in the patient’s care and tell them about the infection and that the patient is in the hospital.
Check that arrangements have been made for the patient to stay on the antibiotics at home or as an outpatient after leaving the hospital. If daily visits to the outpatient clinic for IV (intravenous) antibiotics are needed, the caregiver can coordinate people to help the patient get there and back each day.
These kinds of tasks may be too much for the patient to tackle while fighting infection. This kind of help is valuable. It’s a reassuring sign for the patient that this short-term problem can be managed and solved.


There are other day-to-day tasks a caregiver might do. Here are a few things caregivers might help the person with cancer do, or in some cases even do for them:
• Shop for and prepare food
• Eat
• Take medicines
• Bathe, groom, and dress
• Use the bathroom
• Clean house and do laundry
• Pay bills
• Find emotional support
• Get to and from doctor’s appointments, tests, and treatments
• Manage medical problems at home
• Coordinate cancer care
• Decide when to seek health care or see a doctor for new problems
You may be glad to put the well-being of the person with cancer above your own well-being. And your love for this person may give you the energy and drive you need to help them through this difficult time. Still, no matter how you feel about it, caregiving is a hard job! And many caregivers are there for their loved one 24 hours a day for months or even years.


Good communication with the person you are caring for is the most important part of your role. It may be hard for the patient to take part in daily planning and decision-making because they’re dealing with the physical, emotional, and social effects of cancer and treatment. Your job is to involve the patient as much as possible, so they know they’re doing their part to get better. Here are some things you can try to do to keep the patient involved:
Help them live as normal a life as possible. To do this you might start by helping them decide what activities are most important. They may need to put aside those that are less important in order to do the things enjoyed the most.
Encourage them to share feelings and support their efforts to share. For instance, if they begin talking to you about their feelings about cancer, don’t change the subject. Listen and let them talk. You might want to share how you’re feeling, too.
Let the patient know you’re available, but don’t press issues. For example, if they’re trying to do something, such as dress themselves – they might be struggling, but it’s important for them to be able to do this. You may want to do it for them, but don’t. Let them decide when they need help.
Remember that people communicate in different ways. Try sharing by writing or by using gestures, expressions, or touch. Sometimes, it may be really hard to say what you’re feeling, but a gesture such as holding hands might show how you feel.
Take your cues from the person with cancer. Some people are very private while others will talk more about what they’re going through. Respect the person’s need to share or his need to remain quiet.
Be realistic and flexible about what you hope to talk about and agree on. You may need or want to talk, only to find that the patient doesn’t want to do it at that time.
You might find that the person you’re caring for is acting different – angry, quiet and withdrawn, or just sad. If you think they aren’t talking to you because they want to spare your feelings, make sure they know that you are always open to listening, even about tough topics. If they keep acting very sad or withdrawn, you might want to talk to the cancer care team about what could be causing it and what can be done.


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