Many cancer patients desperately want to be at home. Being surrounded by comfortable and familiar things often makes them feel more secure. Family caregivers might be concerned over how they will manage with a loved one at home. As a family caregiver for a loved one with cancer, you need support for yourself as you care for the one you love.
In-home cancer care can help meet both your needs at your loved one’s needs at the same time.
The person with cancer might need:
- Help with medications
- Assistance with bathing
- Someone to vacuum the floor
- A home cooked meal
- Help to get to the bathroom
- Someone to spend the night with them
- Gentle reminders and help with exercise
- A ride to the doctor’s office
- Someone to pick up groceries
It can feel overwhelming trying to meet all these needs in addition to your day-to-day responsibilities. The dog is barking to go for a walk, your kids need help with homework, you have a big project due at work, and your car breaks down. On top of all of this, it can be hard to find enough time for your loved one.
Whatever the demands on your daily life, a cancer caregiver is there to assist you and your loved one.
5 Ways Home Care Can Help with Cancer Recovery
How often do you wish that you had an extra set of hands? Would it be easier if there was another person in the house who knew what to do to help?
A home caregiver helps make life easier for both the person fighting cancer and their family.
1. Support with Personal Care
Helping a loved one with bathing, dressing, and toileting can be immensely awkward for both of you. You might worry about not knowing how to help or that you may accidentally hurt your loved one. Your loved one may not feel comfortable relying on you for such personal care. A caregiver is someone who is trained to provide skilled assistance with personal hygiene.
A caregiver will know how to help your loved one with a shower and are trained in keeping them safe when doing. Your loved one’s health and safety is their number one priority. A trained caregiver can support your loved one with the daily tasks while also supporting your loved ones independence and dignity.
2. Getting the Jobs Done
It’s not just the personal care tasks that stack up. There are all the to-dos that keep on piling up.
A caregiver can take over driving and errands. Instead of spending the day running around from the doctor’s office, to the pharmacy, and to the grocery store, you can arrange for a caregiver to do these tasks.
There are many necessary little things to do in a day that can get missed in caring for a loved one. Running a load of laundry, dusting, watering the plants, and vacuuming the bedroom are jobs that we are used to doing without much thought but can quickly get forgotten. A home care worker can support you with keeping house.
3. Preparing Meals
Knowing what meals to prepare for a loved one with cancer can be difficult. You want to provide nutritious food but may be unsure about what is appropriate and how to encourage an appetite.
Home care workers can cook healthy and balanced meals that meet the doctor’s recommendations. They can also set up healthy snacks and nutritional supplements.
4. Managing Medications
Keeping track of medications, when they are taken, and what to avoid can feel like a full-time job during cancer care. A caregiver can provide reminders for which medications are due, pick them up from the pharmacy, and assist your loved one with taking the medication at the right time.
5. Physical Therapy and Exercise
A person who is at home during cancer care will often be given a list of exercises or physical therapy to do. These are vital for recovery but can become a source of frustration if you are the one constantly reminding your loved one to do their exercises.
A caregiver can provide support to complete exercises, encouragement to keep going, and guidance on not over-exerting themselves.
Caregivers are there to help your loved one recover, but they are also there to help you. Caregivers can reduce your stress, lessen fatigue, and help you avoid depression so you can focus on being with the person you love.
Tips for Family Caregivers During Cancer Recovery
Watching a loved one recover from cancer treatment can make you feel helpless. If you want to help but aren’t sure where to start, these tips can help.
Start with the Basic Physical Needs
When you are helping your loved one, always look to meet their basic human needs first. These needs are air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, and sleep. The basic needs of your loved one are the same needs that every person has.
Here are some ideas for how to meet the needs for someone recovering from cancer treatment.
A well-balanced diet with a focus on fruits and vegetables is recommended by the American Cancer Society for recovery during cancer treatments. Cancer itself or treatment for it can affect your loved one’s appetite and comfort while eating. You can try:
- Preparing favorite comfort foods that are easy to chew and swallow
- Offering frequent and small snacks or try meal prepping easy foods for them to heat up when hungry
- Buying easy to grab foods that your loved one can have on hand
- Asking their doctor or cancer dietitian about nutritional supplements or drinks for when your loved one is not up to eating
Your loved one may suffer from a dry mouth, dehydration, or unusual taste sensations during cancer treatments. Even water can taste bad. You can help by:
- Experimenting with adding flavors to water with herbs or fruit juices
- Offering mints or flavored candies to suck on while sipping water
- Preparing tea or offering ice chips if drinking water is unappetizing
3. Home and Shelter
During cancer recovery, your loved one can benefit from having a calm and peaceful home environment. Worries about managing their home can make it hard to focus on healing. This could mean:
- Hiring someone to vacuum floors and clean the bathroom
- Offering to walk the dog or hire a dog sitter
- Setting up their bedroom to be a peaceful space clear of clutter
Clothing, warmth, and sleep are all ways to provide comfort to your loved one. During cancer treatments your loved one’s skin may feel dry, uncomfortable, or itchy. They may also experience hot flashes or feel cold and numb. You can help provide comfort by:
- Buying a warm and soft robe or hooded sweater to wear in their favorite color. It may be helpful to find one with large pockets to carry a few things while moving around the house.
- Offer to wash bedding regularly and re-make the bed so that the sheets are clean, warm, inviting, and unwrinkled to promote good sleep.
- Find socks that are loose, warm, and have no seams that press up against the toes.
- Bring a heat pack that can be reheated to tuck around their toes, or for your loved one to hold in their lap when fingers are cold.
- Help set up regular rest periods for your loved one throughout the day.
Respond to the Need for Love and Connection
Beyond having their basic human needs met, your loved one also needs to be loved. As a family caregiver, you are in the closest position to provide connection. Look for opportunities throughout your day to connect with them.
Inadvertently, cancer can be an opportunity for you and your loved one to form a deeper connection. Here are some tips for ways to connect with your loved one during cancer recovery.
The American Cancer Society recommends gentle and regular exercise to help with fatigue, anxiety, muscle strength, and overall fitness. Working out with another person is a very strong source of motivation and encouragement. It can help to:
- Offer to go for a walk around the block on a pleasant, sunny day
- Do some “armchair” exercises together
- Put on music that you both like and dance or tap your toes to the beat
- Find a relaxing stretching video that you can do together
2. Provide Emotional Support
Cancer can be a draining and emotional struggle. Being willing to listen and offer support to your loved one may be the best gift you can give them. Some ways you can do this are:
- Set aside time to listen without offering advice or reassurance. Many people find it extremely helpful to just be listened to and have their feelings understood.
- Do something that you enjoy together. You may have a long relationship history. Think back to things you have done together that has helped your loved one before.
Being a caregiver for someone you love with cancer can be a frightening, yet fulfilling role. It is not a role that you can prepare yourself for in advance. Many caregivers find that they learn what needs to be done as they and their loved one go through the journey together.
Tips for Family Caregivers When a Loved One is Dying from Cancer
You may have received the news that your loved one with cancer is dying. These can be the most heart wrenching weeks or months of your life.
As a family caregiver, you may be struggling with supporting your loved one with their symptoms, emotions, and challenges. You also are going to need support for yourself so you avoid burnout as you deal with your own exhaustion, feelings, and letting go.
These tips are just a place to start in supporting yourself, while you support your loved one.
1. Make Room for Feelings
You may be so busy focusing on doctor appointments and arranging care that feelings can get lost or brushed aside. Both you and your loved one may be dealing with intense feelings of anger, sadness, loss, or guilt. You might feel afraid of what is coming. Your loved one might have unresolved issues he or she needs to talk with you about.
It is okay to take time to let the feelings sink in. Set aside time in your life to just sit together. Write out your feelings if that helps you communicate better. Tell your loved one what you know is true.
- You love them
- You will be there with them
Be honest about your feelings and encourage your loved one to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
2. Get Help
Caring for a loved one dying of cancer can be overwhelming. Please seek out help from other people. You might find excellent support from doctors, nurses, counsellors, social workers, and hospice care services.
If you are able to surround yourself with your own loved ones, you will be better equipped to help your loved one.
3. Take Time for Yourself
Caregivers are constantly told to “look after themselves.” Although this is vitally important, there may be a season where you forget to make time for yourself and focus solely on your loved one in their final days.
You need to make sure that you prepare yourself for the last, rough days. When you take time now to get exercise, eat something healthy, or take a relaxing bath, you are gathering resources for when you will need to pour yourself out.
Part of your self-care is to find the time for you to deal with your own internal pain. Each person will have a different experience. You may need to take the time to cry or acknowledge that you are angry. Talk to a friend or counsellor about the depth of your loss.
It is normal to feel like you can’t do this and that you won’t be able to cope with your loved one's final days of cancer. You might be able to more easily hold onto hope that you can get through today, this hour, or this night.
Take each moment and do what you can in that moment to show love and be present for your loved one.