I’m caring for someone with cancer

There are many types of cancer and different stages of the disease, which will affect people differently and also impact the level and type of care they require. You may have more responsibilities over time if you are caring for someone with advanced cancer. Or, you may have fewer responsibilities as your care recipient recovers.

Here are some ways you can help, no matter your care recipient’s diagnosis, treatment or prognosis.  

Practical support

You can help your care recipient by scheduling appointments, accompanying them to appointments, arranging home care visits and doing tasks around the house such as cooking meals. You may also need to make sure that important papers are organized and kept in a safe place. This can include insurance documents, wills, advance directives and other legal or financial papers. 

Caregiver tip:
If you have to work less because of your caregiving role or if your partner with cancer can’t work, you may be eligible for various forms of assistance from the Government of Canada.

Emotional support

You might need to help your care recipient deal with their emotions and talk through difficult decisions that have to be made about care and treatment.

Caregiver tips:

  • Help them live as normally as possible. Encourage them to continue with their usual day-to-day life as much as they can
  • Encourage them to share their feelings with you. Let them know it’s OK to express fears and concerns about what is going to happen
  • Keep them company. Just being there can be comforting. Talk, watch movies together or listen to music
  • Use touch when you can’t find the words. A squeeze of the hand or a gentle hug can say a lot
  • Respect their need for privacy and to be alone. Coping with cancer sometimes means that you and your care recipient have to take some time alone to think, reflect or just take a break

Personal care and physical support

You may be required to help someone:

  • walk or move around with a walker or wheelchair
  • get in and out of the tub or shower or give sponge baths in bed 
  • get into or out of a bed or chair or help them turn or roll over in bed 
  • use the toilet or bedpans or change incontinence pads
  • brush their teeth, keep lips moist or rinse their mouth 
  • wash their hair, moisturize skin and trim their nails

It’s important to determine what you are and aren’t comfortable doing. Be honest with yourself and the person you’re caring for about what you can realistically do.

Caregiver tip:

Look into what home care services are available where you live. Home care staff can help with bathing and also teach you tasks like how to turn someone in bed. Be sure to ask about getting assistive devices such as a walker, lift, wheelchair, shower chair, grab bar, portable commode or a hospital bed. Look into government assistance and rebate programs to help with the cost of medical equipment in the home.

Medical care support

You may be responsible for giving and storing medicines. This includes giving the correct dose of medicine and keeping track of when medicine was given. If you are not comfortable administering medication, look into home care services in your area.

Caregiver tip:

To prepare for medical appointments, write down questions ahead of time; and listen and write down information during appointments. Also, be sure to ask the health care team how you can assist in managing the side effects of the cancer treatment.

Advanced cancer care

Advanced cancer is cancer that is unlikely to be cured. You may hear terms like metastatic, terminal or end-stage cancer. Treatment doesn’t end when cancer is advanced – but it does change. Generally the focus of care is on the prevention and relief of pain and suffering. It’s important to discuss with your care recipient their wishes for future care, so you can make decisions on their behalf if needed.

Caregiver tip:

Talk to your care recipient and their healthcare team about palliative care options. Palliative care is a type of care that provides physical, emotional, social and spiritual support for people with life-limiting illnesses. Palliative care can be provided at home or in a palliative care facility.

Get help:

Not sure where to start? Call our 24/7 helpline or talk to us in our live chat to find resources in your community.

*Source: Canadian Cancer Society https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/living-with-cancer/caregiving/what-caregivers-do/?region=on

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