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I'm a caregiver

Breast cancer touches more people than just those who receive the diagnosis. If a family member or close friend has breast cancer, you may find yourself in the role of caregiver through treatment and, in some cases, an extended recovery period.

Your Roles as a Caregiver

Learn how to be an effective caregiver in Your Guide to Cancer Care.

As a caregiver, you’ll provide emotional support and help with routine tasks. In some circumstances, you may assist with more personal activities like giving medication or taking care of other physical needs. You may also find yourself playing the role of advocate during meetings with doctors, nurses, and other specialists.

Learn about:

Ways to provide emotional support

  • Be a good listener
  • Be sensitive to the person’s emotional needs. That means sharing your feelings openly when the person wants to talk candidly about the illness. But it may also mean helping the person take her or his mind off it when appropriate
  • Respect the person’s need for privacy
  • Be supportive
  • Respect the person’s right to make her or his own treatment decisions
  • Continue to be there for the person once treatment has ended

Ways to provide practical support

  • Participate in consultations with doctors and other caregivers if the person wants it. On the other hand, don’t insist if she or he prefers to meet with healthcare professionals privately
  • Coordinate rides to treatment
  • Cook or coordinate meal preparation and delivery
  • Arrange babysitting or childcare
  • Provide help with housecleaning and laundry
  • Water plants
  • Arrange convenient times for extended family or friends to visit or call
  • Arrange for or take care of pets
  • Handle insurance paperwork
  • Being an Advocate

    Write it Down

    If you do participate in consultations with healthcare providers, it’s a good idea to prepare for each visit together ahead of time, by writing down any questions you both have. You’ll also want to take detailed notes during the conversation.

    If you’re the primary caregiver of someone with breast cancer, you may play an active role in your loved one’s treatment decisions. You may also find yourself serving as an advocate for your family member or close friend with doctors and other healthcare professionals, hospital administrators, and insurers.

    Your presence may be especially valuable during the frequent consultations with doctors and other specialists. These appointments can often be stressful and confusing. Your participation can help ensure that all of your loved one’s concerns and questions are addressed, and that she or he understands and keeps track of any advice or instructions given.

    Keep in mind, though, that it is up to your loved one — not you — to decide whether you take part in these consultations. You can volunteer, but you can’t insist if the person prefers to talk with doctors alone.

    Here are some questions you may want to make sure are addressed:

    • What are the potential physical and emotional effects of this treatment?
    • Are there any warnings signs of potential complications to look out for?
    • What kind of support services or assistance may be required during treatment and recovery?
    • Are there natural or complementary therapies that can help make treatment easier to tolerate?
    • Is there a support group for caregivers that you can recommend, or that people with cancer and their caregivers and/or families can attend together?

    Caring for yourself, too

    Because being a primary caregiver is very demanding, it’s important to make time to take care of yourself as well.

    For example:

    • Take time out every day to do something for yourself, like go to the gym, watch a favorite tv show, or have coffee with a friend
    • Taking Care of Yourself

      Learn how to care for yourself while providing care for another in Your Guide to Cancer Care.

    • When friends and loved ones ask how they can help, don’t hesitate to tell them exactly what you or the person with cancer needs
    • Allow a friend, family member, or homecare professional to take over your responsibilities at least one day a week
    • Look into having a homecare aide help with personal activities like bathing and dressing
    • Join a caregivers support group or online community to share experiences and advice with others in a situation similar to yours

    Look into respite care provided by a family member, friend, or professional caregiver who will take over your duties for a week or so every six months, or whenever you feel you need a break

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