A breast cancer diagnosis affects more than just the patient. Caregivers of those with breast cancer have their own new challenges to face: increased stress, losing sleep, worry for your loved one’s health, scheduling challenges of accompanying your loved one at doctor’s appointments. As the spouse/friend/daughter/son/parent of someone with breast cancer, it’s easy to put your own health and wellbeing on the back burner and think you shouldn’t complain or prioritize yourself, because the struggles you are facing are “small” compared to those of the person with cancer. But you do need to take the time to support your own wellbeing so that you can fully show up as the best caregiver you can be. Like they say on airplanes, you have to put your own oxygen mask first before helping others. At survivingbreastcancer.org, we have resources available for caregivers and families of those with breast cancer.
Podcast Episode #111 Complicated Grief and Caregiver Bereavement | The Caregiver Perspective
In this episode we speak with Andrew Silver, Jimmy Boratyn, and Christian Garnett, who have all lost their beloved wives to metastatic breast cancer (MBC). This is part II of our discussion where we get into the coping strategies that these men turned to as they stress the importance of making time for yourself so that you can be strong for others. Andrew, Jimmy, and Christian also describe in great detail, the passing of their wives, Sonya, Melissa, and Emily. Listen Now.
Therapy and Breast Cancer
A past Feature Friday focused on the benefits of therapy. This is equally important for caregivers as it is for patients. Mental health professionals such as social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists are trained to help their people work through the spectrum of emotions you may be feeling. Read More.
Content Across The Web
Being a caregiver for a loved one with breast cancer is a large responsibility, but can also be very rewarding and strengthen your bond with the person you are caring for. The American Cancer Society shares advice about what is important to know as you take on this role.
“You might find that caregiving enriches your life. You might feel a deep sense of satisfaction, confidence, and accomplishment in caring for someone. You may also learn about inner strengths and abilities that you didn’t even know you had, and find a greater sense of purpose for your own life. ... Caregiving can also be frustrating and painful. People caring for very sick patients may notice their own feelings of severe sadness and emotional distress. They may feel sadness and grief over their loved one’s illness and may also feel overwhelmed or frustrated as they try to manage many difficult problems.”
Remember, this job doesn’t have to be all on you. “Most importantly, don’t try to do it all yourself. Caregiving alone for any period of time is not realistic. Reach out to others. Involve them in your life and in the things you must do for your loved one. Some caregivers feel they have to do it all alone. They may believe that, as the partner, sibling, son, or daughter they’re responsible for the sick loved one. It’s painful for them to admit that they can’t do it all and still keep their own health and sanity. They’ll bend over backward to meet their loved one’s every need. Some feel guilty if they can’t do it all and say they feel ‘selfish’ if they ask for help.
Set realistic limits on what you can do. For instance, if you have a back injury, and/or if your loved one is too big for you to lift, you may be able to help them roll over in bed, but don’t try to lift them alone or catch them when they fall. (You may end up seriously injured or sick and become unable to help anyone.) This is where expert help is needed – home care nurses or physical therapists can show you how to do it safely.” Read More.
Taking time to recharge your mind, body, and spirit can help you be a better caregiver. You may want to think about the following:
Make Time for Yourself
Join a Support Group
Support groups can meet in person, by phone, or online. They may help you gain new insights into what is happening, get ideas about how to cope, and help you know that you're not alone. In a support group, people may talk about their feelings, trade advice, and try to help others who are dealing with the same kinds of issues.
Learn More about Cancer
Sometimes understanding your cancer patient’s medical situation can make you feel more confident and in control. It may help you to know what to expect during treatment, such as the tests and procedures that will be done, as well as the side effects that will result.
Talk to Others about What You're Going Through
It's especially helpful when you feel overwhelmed or want to say things that you can't say to your loved one with cancer. Try to find someone you can really open up to about your feelings or fears. You're allowed to feel angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed.
Write in a Journal
You might write about your most stressful experiences. Or you may want to express your deepest thoughts and feelings. You can also write about things that make you feel good, such as a pretty day or a kind coworker or friend.
You may feel thankful that you can be there for your loved one. You may be glad for a chance to do something positive and give to another person in a way you never knew you could. . This doesn't mean that caregiving is easy, stress-free, or not frustrating. But finding meaning in caregiving can make it easier to manage.
Most breast cancer treatment today is given in outpatient treatment centers rather than in hospitals requiring inpatient stay. While this means that the patient can maintain more of their regular routines and enjoy the comfort of their own home, it also means that more of the day to day responsibilities fall on caregivers. This additional burden can take a real toll on the caregiver’s quality of life. Receiving adequate support and connecting with other caregivers can be beneficial for your mental wellbeing. A Nigerian study, published in 2019, found that caregivers who received a psychosocial intervention, which included weekly educational sessions on information about breast cancer, the emotional aspect of caring, adjustment to the role of caregiver and communication strategies, had better quality of life outcomes than those who did not.
You can implement this principle in your own life by joining support groups for cancer caregivers. Your loved one’s oncology center may be able to direct you to local resources. Read More.
"Coping with advanced breast cancer is a challenge for both women and their family caregivers. The primary purposes of this study were to compare coping strategies used by patients with advanced breast cancer and their family caregivers and to examine how those strategies related to patient and caregiver quality of life. The sample consisted of 189 patient-family member dyads with advanced breast cancer. Profile analysis showed that patients reported greater use of emotional support, religion, positive reframing, distraction, venting, and humor coping while family members reported greater use of alcohol/drug coping. Regression analyses showed that among both patients and family caregivers, active coping was associated with higher quality of life and avoidant coping was associated with lower quality of life. In addition, the patient’s level of symptom distress moderated the relationship between coping and quality of life. The negative relationship between family caregivers’ avoidant coping strategies and family caregivers’ mental quality of life was strongest when patients had low levels of symptom distress and weakest when patients had high levels of symptom distress." Read More.