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Life After Cancer: Continuing To Be a Caregiver

Life After Cancer: Continuing To Be a Caregiver 

Being a caregiver for a cancer survivor can be challenging. You may find that the issues are different from those during treatment. But cancer survivors can still have ongoing physical and emotional issues after treatment ends. You may also have your own struggles in giving care while also caring for yourself. 

Understanding cancer survivorship 

After your loved one finishes cancer treatment and is in remission from cancer, he or she still faces challenges. Some side effects of treatment can last for a while. Some may happen weeks or even months after treatment. Your family member or friend may have job and financial worries. And it can be hard to go back to a “normal” life after cancer. It often takes longer than expected. He or she will also likely be concerned about the risk for long-lasting side effects or the cancer coming back. 

Cancer treatment after-effects 

Even though the cancer is gone doesn’t mean that your loved one feels fine now. Cancer and its treatments are very hard on the body. Cancer survivors often have after-effects that can last for months or even years. Organs may have been removed or damaged by treatment. Their body may not work the same ways as it did before. The medicines used can cause effects long after a person stops taking them. After cancer, your family member or friend may have issues such as: 

  • Tiredness (fatigue)

  • Pain

  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)

  • Swelling of the lymph nodes (lymphedema)

  • Mouth problems

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Changes in sexual health and fertility

  • Thinking (cognitive) changes

  • Emotional issues such as depression or anxiety 

Talk with your loved one’s healthcare team to find out what kinds of treatment after-effects to expect. Ask the healthcare team:

  • What can be done to help prevent problems

  • How you can help ease symptoms

  • What kinds of problems to keep watch for

  • When to call the healthcare team 

What is a cancer survivorship care plan (SCP)? 

A survivorship care plan is a special document to help a person move forward after cancer treatment. Several medical groups advise that healthcare providers should put together an SCP for their cancer patients. The care plan is a personal record of cancer treatment history and information to help after cancer treatment. Ask the healthcare team if they can put together an SCP for your loved one. 

Ways you can still help 

Your loved one’s needs may change over time. But you may still find that your family member or friend needs different kinds of support. 

You can give practical support in some of these ways:

  • Cleaning and doing laundry

  • Doing grocery shopping and other errands

  • Making meals

  • Tending pets

  • Helping with bathing, dressing, and using the toilet

  • Filling prescriptions and keeping track of medicines

  • Driving

  • Arranging medical appointments

  • Going along to medical appointments

  • Keeping in contact with the healthcare team in case of problems

  • Filing and following up on health insurance claims and medical bills

  • Helping him or her make healthcare decisions

  • Communicate with his or her workplace 

For physical health, you can help your loved one:

  • Walk or do physical therapy daily

  • Keep track of symptoms

  • Note any new or worse symptoms

  • Call the healthcare team if needed 

For emotional health, you can help your loved one:

  • Keep watch for signs of depression and anxiety

  • Be in touch with family and friends

  • Find online or local support groups

  • Find a counselor or therapist

  • Contact his or her spiritual advisor 

Financial concerns for you 

Caregivers sometimes need to take unpaid time off work, or even quit their job. They often spend their own money on caregiving expenses. These issues can cause financial problems. Talk with your employer about the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and employee assistance programs. Ask the hospital and healthcare team for information about financial help. 

Taking care of yourself 

Helping someone recover from cancer is a stressful task. You may worry about your loved one’s physical and mental health. You may worry about financial issues. You may feel powerless to help in many ways. And you may be unsure exactly what your role is now. These kinds of worries cause stress and can lead to depression and anxiety. To keep yourself healthy, make sure to:

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Get regular physical activity

  • Protect yourself from the sun

  • Keep your social life active

  • Get a flu shot every year

  • Don’t smoke

  • Limit alcohol

  • Get enough sleep

  • Get regular checkups and screening tests

  • Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help with any of these  

Getting support 

While you are a caregiver, you need support, too. Make sure to:

  • Contact the healthcare team if you feel unsure or stressed

  • Talk with a counselor or other therapist if you need

  • Get help from your family and friends 

Also, ask the healthcare team:

  • How to get help from state or federal programs

  • What other community or hospital resources may help with caregiving 

You can also connect with other caregivers and find support from organizations such as:

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