Being a caregiver for a cancer survivor can be complex. Cancer survivors can still have physical and emotional issues after treatment ends. The types of issues will change over time. As cancer survivors learn to adapt to the "new normal" and go back to roles they had before diagnosis, you may not be sure what to do. And you may have your own struggles with giving care while taking care of yourself.
After your loved one finishes cancer treatment, they may still have challenges. Some side effects of treatment can last for a while. Some may not happen until weeks or months after treatment. Your family member or friend may have job and money worries. And it can be hard to go back to a normal life after cancer. It often takes longer than expected. They will likely worry about the risk for long-lasting side effects. And it’s common to worry about the cancer coming back. Caregivers also share in the survivorship experience.
The cancer is gone. But that doesn’t mean that your loved one feels fine now. Cancer and its treatments are very hard on the body. Cancer survivors often have aftereffects that can last for months or years. Organs may have been removed or damaged. Their body may not work as it did before. The medicines used can cause side effects long after a person stops taking them. After cancer, your family member or friend may struggle with:
Nerve damage (neuropathy)
Swelling caused by buildup of lymph fluid (lymphedema)
Weight gain or loss
Changes in sexual health and fertility
Thinking (cognitive) changes
Depression or anxiety
Talk with your loved one’s healthcare team. You can find out what kinds of treatment aftereffects to expect. Ask the healthcare team:
What can be done to help prevent problems
How you can help ease symptoms
What kinds of problems to keep watch for
When to call the healthcare team
A survivorship care plan is a document to help a person move forward after cancer treatment. Some medical groups advise that healthcare providers put together an SCP for their patients. The care plan is a detailed record of cancer treatment history. And it has information to help after cancer treatment. Ask the healthcare team if they can create an SCP for your loved one.
Your loved one’s needs will change. But you may still find that your family member or friend needs support. Over time they should be able to return to most, if not all, of the things they did before cancer.
As they make these adjustments and get back into everyday routines, you can give support in some of these ways:
Cleaning the house and doing laundry
Doing grocery shopping and other errands
Caring for pets
Helping with bathing, dressing, and using the toilet
Filling prescriptions and keeping track of medicines
Arranging medical appointments
Going along to medical appointments
Keeping in contact with the healthcare team in case of problems
Filing and following up on health insurance claims and medical bills
Helping them make healthcare decisions
Communicating with their workplace
For physical health, you can help your loved one:
Walk or do physical therapy daily
Keep track of symptoms
Note any new or worse symptoms
Call the healthcare team if needed
For emotional health, you can help your loved one:
Keep watch for signs of depression and anxiety
Be in touch with family and friends
Find online or local support groups
Find a counselor or therapist
Contact their spiritual advisor
Caregivers sometimes need to take unpaid time off work. Some even need to quit their job. They often spend their own money on care expenses. These issues can cause money problems. Talk with your employer about the Family Medical Leave Act and employee assistance programs. Ask the hospital and healthcare team for information about financial help.
Helping someone recover from cancer is a stressful task. You may worry about your loved one’s physical and mental health. You may worry about money issues. You may feel powerless to help in some ways. And you may be unsure what your role is now. These kinds of worries cause stress. They can lead to depression and anxiety. To keep yourself healthy, make sure to:
Eat a healthy diet.
Get regular physical activity.
Protect yourself from the sun.
Keep your social life active.
Get a flu shot every year.
Get enough sleep.
Get regular check-ups and screening tests.
Write in a journal to help express your feelings about what you've been going through.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help with any of these.
While you are a caregiver, you need support, too. Make sure to:
Contact the healthcare team if you feel unsure or stressed
Talk with a counselor or other therapist if you need to
Get help from your family and friends
Also, ask the healthcare team:
How to get help from state or federal programs
What other community or hospital resources may help with caregiving
You can also connect with other caregivers and find support from:
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute