Tips for carers of patients with breast cancer
Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer can be a life changing experience for patients and their loved ones. When someone close is diagnosed or being treated for cancer, family and friends can experience feelings of stress and helplessness. These feelings are particularly common for carers helping someone close with their cancer journey. While it is an emotionally and physically charged time, it can also be a time of deep connection, comfort and reward.
Types of support
The support you may provide depends on the needs of the person you are supporting, as well as your own situation. The caregiver’s role is important throughout the entire journey. Here are some examples of support you can consider:
- Emotional and empathetic support
- Assistance with medical care
- Help with daily tasks (for example, taking care of children, cooking meals, helping with household chores, or driving to appointments)
- Help with financial and administrative issues (for example, with insurance or paying bills on time)
- Organising community service assistance
- Acting as a communicator, translator or liaison between the patient and medical team
- Being the key point of contact sharing updates with extended family, friends and work colleagues
Tips for carers
Work as a team
Remember, as a caregiver you are not alone—you are part of a team that includes family, friends, and healthcare professionals.
There will be differing opinions within the team. As the main care giver, listen carefully to the patient, ensuring they are involved in all discussions and decisions – feeling included and empowered helps with a positive mindset throughout treatment. Also, do your best to help the other members of the team express their opinions, concerns and emotions.
Make a list
Lists are very helpful in prioritising and scheduling tasks. As caregiving is a team effort, this list can also be used to delegate between other members of the team.
Be a proactive problem solver
Each patient’s cancer journey is different. Taking charge, planning, and problem solving may prevent unforeseen forks in the road and will also provide a feeling of control and order for both the patient and the caregiving team.
Ask for help
Seeking advice and help from others is important, and may include:
- Professional home care (e.g. organising a house cleaner or nanny)
- Meal deliveries (e.g. Meals on Wheels)
- Assistance with everyday activities
- Volunteer community services (e.g. help with transportation, financial assistance, family support services such as CanTeen, counseling, free workshops provided by Look Good, Feel Better or legal aid)
Support groups including those available via the Cancer Council
A central role of the caregiver is to speak openly and listen to the person who has breast cancer. Assure them that they are a central part of all discussions and decisions, plus be cognisant of their feelings.
Sense of control and normality
Try to help the patient keep a sense of control (for instance, by asking what he or she would like help with rather than just assuming). Accept the patient’s limitations, which may change over the course of their treatment, and try to help them maintain a sense of normality (e.g. by encouraging participation in activities they enjoy).
Stay positive and know your limits
A positive attitude is contagious, and while you might not have complete control over what happens with your loved one’s cancer, you can control your reactions. Acknowledge your strengths and recognise your boundaries. Importantly, remember that it is okay to ask for professional help, such as speaking to someone about how you are feeling or about personal challenges you are experiencing as a caregiver.
Looking after your mind, body, and spirit is important when you are a caregiver:
- Find time to relax
- Continue to nurture your personal life
- Keep up your personal routine as much as possible
Stay healthy (e.g. by exercising regularly, healthy eating, meditation and getting plenty of rest).
How should a caregiver help with medical care?
Learn about the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis
Ask the healthcare team for resources to help understand your loved one’s cancer, including the treatment and prognosis. It is also helpful to keep a record of items related to their care including medical appointments, test results, medications, symptoms, side effects, and names of resources.
Advocate at medical appointments
Sit with the patient ahead of appointments and write down questions for the medical team. The more the medical team know about what is going on outside of the clinic setting, and your concerns, the more personalised and informed the decisions related to treatment and care. This could include information on side effects, symptoms and changes in the patient’s circumstances. In addition, during appointments, it may be helpful to make notes about details discussed with the doctor and treatment team, for the patient and yourself to refer to at a later time.
Hear from GenesisCare radiation oncologist Dr David Schlect about the important role family, friends and carers play in supporting loved ones during their cancer journey.