Caring for Cancer Caregivers

handsCaregivers for individuals with cancer are an extremely important part of cancer care and patients’ well-being.  Although a lot of attention is placed on the needs of the patients who are undergoing treatment, sometimes the needs of the caregiver are forgotten or not acknowledged.  Caregivers face many of their own hardships and need a range of support services to stay healthy and be able to manage caring for a person going through cancer treatments. They sometimes don’t know where to go for help, but there are clinics that provide support for cancer caregivers.

There comes a lot of responsibility for caregivers when caring for sick loved ones. Caregivers provide physical, emotional, financial and spiritual support to patients. It can take a toll on them when it is a new experience that stretches them beyond their capabilities or resources.

Caregivers often develop fatigue, stress, increased pain, depression, headaches, and weight changes. They can have physical problems such as sleep difficulties, low energy, decreased strength, and loss of appetite. Emotionally it can be draining and result in anxiety, depression, fear, or hopelessness. Lifestyle factors that can be affected include missing time at work, sacrificing finances and savings, juggling responsibilities, less leisure time and dealing with isolation.  Caregivers may feel unlike their peers.

But there are also some positive findings for those that take on the role of caregiver. Positive experiences include appreciating time together with the patient and having a greater sense of connectedness. People may find themselves at peace in knowing that the person with cancer is not alone in their challenges. Successful outcomes from treatments are celebrated by both the individual and the caregiver who often feel that they have gone through the experience and succeeded in the challenges together.

Across the United States attention is being focused on providing more support for cancer caregivers. Some examples of patient caregiving activities include practicing hands-on skills like helping to change clothes for a patient and managing an ostomy. Providing information on cancer for those that may be coming into the situation with no experience in this type of caregiving; addressing the physical, emotional, and social side effects that treatment brings are also helpful. In case there are marital conflicts, there are programs centered on the psychosocial needs of the marital and family relationships. The goal is to help caregivers to feel more confident in their ability to care for their loved ones and to provide resources to lessen the struggles that they may face.

The Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology offers meaningful support for cancer patients and their caregivers through individual supportive counseling and support groups. A study was recently done to research different types of support groups available for caregivers. The National Cancer Institute put together a list of designated cancer center programs that stood out from the rest in demonstrating innovation and commitment to help caregivers. The Simms/Mann UCLA Center’s Husbands (Partners) of Women with Cancer support group was recognized as one of the exemplar programs.

The Simms/Mann Center’s Husbands (Partners) of Women with Cancer support group meets 2 Thursdays each month with Stephen Lottenberg, MD, PsyD who facilitates the sessions. The focus of this group is for men who are supporting women or partners diagnosed with cancer. Research has been shown that men benefit from sharing and hearing from other men’s experiences.

For more information on this support group, please go to: http://www.simmsmanncenter.ucla.edu/?p=1591

To read “Putting Together the Pieces of the Puzzle: Identifying Existing Evidence-Based Resources to Support the Cancer Caregiver” from the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, go to: http://ons.metapress.com/content/c5612543226ux7k5/?genre=article&id=doi%3a10.1188%2f14.CJON.619-621

Leave a Comment