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Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Caring for the Caregiver

  • Posted: 06/29/2007

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Talking With Others

Your partner or spouse

Nearly all caregivers and their partners feel more stress than usual in their relationship. They must deal with many decisions and changes. Some couples find that their bonds get stronger during cancer treatment. Others find they get weaker.

Try to be open about your stress and its causes. You may want to:

  • Talk about how each of you feels:
    • Share how you are each coping.
    • Look at things that are causing you both stress.
    • Talk about choices you can make together.
    • Try to be grateful for each other.
  • Make time to focus on things besides cancer.
  • Talk with your partner if you find that your sex life is different than it used to be. There can be many causes:
    • You or your partner is tired.
    • Your relationship feels strained.
    • If your partner is the patient:
      • Either of you may not feel good about how your partner looks.
      • You may be afraid you will hurt your partner.
      • The treatment might be affecting your partner's ability to perform. He or she may be in pain or depressed.

You can still be close as a couple in spite of these issues. Staying close is also about sharing feelings and understanding. You can:

  • Talk about closeness and your sex life.
  • Talk about your hopes for the future.
  • Try not to judge each other.
  • Protect your time together.
  • Be patient and take things slowly.
  • Talk to a counselor or your support group.

Other family members and friends

Did your family have problems before cancer? These problems are likely to be more intense now. This is true if you are caring for a spouse, child, or parent. Your new role as a caregiver may cause feelings you didn't expect.

Talk with the people close to you. Try to be open and caring. Ask a counselor to hold a family meeting if needed. During stressful times, ask someone else to update others about how your loved one is doing.

Dealing with help you don't need

Sometimes people offer help you don't need. Thank them for their concern. Tell them you'll let them know if you need anything.

Some people may offer unwanted advice. They may do this because they don't know what else to say. It's up to you to decide how to deal with this. You don't have to respond at all. Otherwise, thank them and let it go. Tell them you are taking steps to help your family.

Your kids

Children start to understand the world around them at a very young age. It is important to be honest with them. They need to know the truth about your loved one. Otherwise, they will think the worst. Let them know how you feel, too.

Some tips for talking with kids:

  • Tell them about cancer. Let them know that there is nothing they did to cause cancer. And they can't catch it from someone else.
  • Let them know their feelings are okay. Tell them you understand if they are upset, angry, sad, or scared. Remind them that no matter what happens, you will always love them.
  • Tell them the truth with love and hope. Let them know that your loved one is getting good care and that you hope he or she will get well again. But don't try to promise them a good outcome if you aren't sure of one.
  • Listen to them. Ask them how they feel and what they are worried about. If they're young, ask them to draw a picture or play with dolls to show you how they feel.
  • Stay involved. You may be with your loved one who is sick more often right now. Try to spend time with your kids in any way you can. Take them to the store with you or eat meals with them. Ask them about their day. Leave them notes or call them when you can.