Stand Up To Cancer - standuptocancer.orgThis is where the end of cancer begins
   Please leave this field empty

SU2C Blog

Share this:

Like this page on Facebook

Caring for Yourself: Advice for Cancer Caregivers

Posted on July 12, 2013, 6:30 AM
Caring for Yourself: Advice for Cancer Caregivers

By Paul H. Brenner, M.D., Ph.D.

There are few harder tasks than being a caregiver for a loved one going through the journey of cancer. Caregivers are patient advocates. They take notes during office visits, remind those they love to ask specific questions about symptoms they are experiencing, and prepare their own lists of questions for both physicians and nurses.

As a family member or friend taking on a new role, caregiving can take individuals completely out of themselves, their routine, and their life in unconditional service to another. Since patient care can be overwhelming, it is essential for the caregivers to take care of themselves, set goals, exercise, and most importantly, be honest about their feelings of helplessness, frustration, exhaustion and often anger.

There are many potential sources of negative feelings for caregivers. Seeing a loved one suffer a serious disease is painful for everyone, and can be exacerbated by worries about finances and the future. Additionally, the individuals who have cancer tend to feel disempowered by those who are dedicated to helping them. So, ironically what you perceive as a loving act can be interpreted by the patient as disempowerment. In my experience as a psychosocial oncologist, the anger that most caregivers feel is directed toward medicine for its failure to alleviate the pain and suffering of their loved ones. The caregivers often find themselves desperately glued to the Internet researching the latest treatments, procedures, and natural therapies, getting overwhelmed by it all. 

It’s important to find healthy ways of taking care of yourself as a caregiver. Start by acknowledging, rather than denying, your feelings. You don’t have to pretend to be cheerful, even when you are feeling overwhelmed. It’s okay to cry. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. And don’t expect to be perfect – no one is.

There are simple things you can do to make your life easier. Much of the caregiver’s frustration can be resolved by staying away from the Internet, which is filled with anecdotal tails of cures and complications. Medicine is not a pure science and cannot, as a result, offer absolutes solutions for all problems. But today’s medicine is the best we have presently, and is closer to cancer cures then ever before.

Rather than trying to tackle everything, focus on tasks you can control. It could be scheduling doctor visits, helping with meals and errands, and so on. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many of us feel that we need to “do it all.” Ask friends and family to help with chores, appointments, and so on. You may need assistance with the emotional challenges of caregiving, too. Try talking with your inner circle of support: loved ones, faith groups, or social circles. Or go beyond your inner circle to join a caregiver support group, or speak with a counselor, social worker, psychologist or other mental health professional. Each of these people may be able to help you talk about things that you don’t feel you can talk about with your loved ones.

So dear caregiver, be kind to yourself and treat yourself as lovingly as those you love. Find time and space for yourself. This allows the person who is ill to feel better and less guilty for consuming your life and for the suffering they feel they have caused you. To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, change those things in life that you can, and have the wisdom to accept those things you cannot. Caregiving is a love beyond love that has no beginning or end, so cherish yourself with the identical love that your have for your beloved.

Paul Brenner M.D., PhD. was a gynecological oncologist who practiced obstetrics and gynecology, and also holds a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology. His journey through the healing arts has been in search of those unseen processes that play into chronic illness. He presently is the Psychosocial Oncologist at the UCSD Health Systems San Diego Cancer Center. Also, he is a Research Fellow at The San Diego Cancer Research Institute. He is involved in studying the impact of Trans-Generational Emotional Patterns on Health and Illness. He is the author of “Seeing your Life Through New Eyes” and “Buddha in the Waiting Room.”  He also has lectured throughout the world.

Return to Blog


Posted by Kristine Burton | July 13, 2013 7:48 AM

Thank you for your kind words..I have been a caregiverost my life from the cradle to the grave..I’ve help my dad early I’m life.he was 49 agent niece mid life..she was I’m 49 and I’m caring for my mother she’s 70 with mastetic recurrent colon cancer..I have help raise 13 AMD counting’s very trying..

Posted by missy | July 13, 2013 7:54 AM

Thank you for such inspiring words. My husband has stage IV colon cancer . We have fought it for four and a half years. Been married 33 years in September. It was already in liver when it was he has in lymph nodes behide stomach. He’s had humerus surgeries. But now he is on a chemo that is shrinking the tumors and nodes. He still works. Chemo makes him sick but he does get two weeks off four on. So his quility of life right now is wonderful really. I worry all the time. He I not a
worrier. I have a great support group, family and friends, but they can’t really understand, not unless you’ve been through it.  I pray for a miracle everyday. For the cancer to be gone! I do Believe in miracles. Thanks for listening.

Posted by Joan Searles | July 13, 2013 7:54 AM

I just lost my husband to pancreatic cancer 6/11/13, without hospice, I could not handle this impossible job. With their help he was able to stay home till the end.My life has changed completely. Now I am ready to move on. The mixed emotions were draining.

Posted by Marj Schaff | July 13, 2013 9:18 AM

Excellent!!! I was the patient.

Posted by Sylvia Waters | July 13, 2013 11:43 AM

It seems over the years I have always been the caregiver for many different family members in need. I worked as a CNA in a nursing home for 15 years, quit to take care of elderly maternal grandparents for 8 years. At the same time did daycare for a grandson that was a year old, did my mothers rehab for 2 hip replacements and her brain tumor surgery. I did this all at my grandparents home. My grandparents lived to be 98 ad 102. My husband had to share me. Then after the passing of my grandparents my husband had open heart surgery and hip replacement surgery. I have was diagnosed with multiple 7 years ago. I am hear to tell that the caregiver definitely needs help and much support from anyone willing to help. My family was busy with their own families and did not realize I needed some help. It is to much for anyone alone.  Now, it is very hard for me to accept help!

Posted by Lili Taylor | July 13, 2013 4:51 PM

My beloved husband, who passed away 5/19/13 from Esophageal Cancer, had his biggest battle in front of him to fight this internal monster.  I was at his beck n call 24/7 for 2 years.  There was no quality of life…  His last 6 days I asked hospice to step in not that I did any less for him.  Now that he’s gone, I’m dealing with bills galore, selling my home and my life will be empty without my soulmate.  But I’ll get through it…God gives us the strength. And our friends!

Posted by Diane Karas | July 13, 2013 7:46 PM

Thank You so much for all the kind advice.  My husband has been fighting cancer for 1 year, there’s been good times and now it’s very draining on me to see him suffering.

Posted by Yvonne Mcalpine | July 14, 2013 10:38 AM

Thank you Dr. Brenner for writing this. It is so helpful. I know someone who is going through this with his mom. He’s been having so many different emotions so I am going to share this with him as I think this will help.  My husband died in 2005 from acinic cell carcinoma at age 44. This neck cancer runs in his family. It was very hard to go through this but I felt it to be the most loving thing I could do for the man who loved me and always took care if me and our son who was 9 when he passed. For the first time in my life I received and acepted help by wonderful friends,  family and Hospice. Normally I don’t ask for anything,  littlle Miss Toughy me. It was the best thing to receive their help. They were Angels.

Posted by Gen Mak | April 16, 2014 11:28 PM

I have a husband stage IV colon.  I have two kids.  He’s on perm disability.  I hate waking up seeing him.  I am full of anger & resentment.  I am trying my best to stay strong.  It is hard to pretend your happy everyday when everyday stinks !!!  I feel he ruined my life when things went from bad to worse and u can’t wait for this to b over for him & me.  I fear the impact on my kids.

Add your Comment

Your comment will need to be approved before it appears on the site. Thanks for waiting.




Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Enter this word: