Who's Caring for the Breast Cancer Caregiver?
In a single day he may take the kids to school, attend a doctor’s appointment, pick up prescriptions, do laundry, give medications, help his wife bathe, make dinner, help with homework, pay bills and get up several times in the night to comfort his wife. Tomorrow he’ll start all over again.
For breast cancer caregivers, the days are long, sleep is short and worry never ends. Hospice can make the difference.
Hospice care—a team effort to support families of breast cancer patients
At the center of all hospice services is palliative care, which includes preventing or treating “…the symptoms of the disease; side effects caused by the treatment of the disease; and psychological, social and spiritual problems related to the disease.”¹ These services extend to include the whole family.
If you are caring for a patient with breast cancer, or if you know someone who is, here are some tips other caregivers have shared:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Manage stress in a productive way—exercising, talking to someone, etc.
- Talk about the future in a hopeful way.
- Maintain a sense of humor.
- Give yourself permission to feel the emotions associated with your loved one’s illness.
- Take advantage of resources available for caregivers, such as support groups, online information, etc.
- You don’t have to do everything yourself. Ask for help; accept help when it is offered.
- Allow yourself to continue doing the hobbies you love.
- Try relaxation techniques such as meditation or therapeutic massage.
- Keep a positive attitude.
Benefits of an interdisciplinary team
Hospice services bring together the skills of many healthcare professionals, including a physician, nurse, social worker, hospice aide, chaplain, specialty therapist (e.g., massage, acupuncture, Reiki, music, art, pets, etc.), bereavement manager and volunteer. Their goal is to bring calm, comfort and care to the patient and the family, whether the patient is in the hospital or at home.
Hospice care benefits the breast cancer patient by providing pain and symptom relief. Common issues for breast cancer patients include nausea, shortness of breath, constipation and fatigue—all of which the hospice team can manage. Anxiety, depression and worries about body image are also addressed.
What are the caregiver's concerns?
The issues are different for the breast cancer caregiver. A member of the hospice care team can walk them through the treatment options, explain what side effects to expect and what psychological issues the patient may be facing.
Having a better understanding of the disease and what the patient is feeling has a direct effect on the caregiver’s ability to care for the patient.² Whether a caregiver is getting a helping hand with household duties, an explanation of complicated medical procedures, or just a warm cup of tea and a listening ear, knowing they don't have to handle everything alone can reduce a caregiver’s feelings of depression, anxiety and overload.³
'We're committed to the caregiver'
At VITAS, every member of the care team knows end-stage breast cancer is not an isolated event; it impacts the entire family.
“The caregivers are confused. If they’re open to talking about their own needs, we can provide support, especially emotional support, as well as give input about places to go—support groups, churches—or numbers to call,” says Gustavo Giraldo, a VITAS chaplain. “We had a breast cancer patient who was being cared for by her daughter. I made sure to call the daughter once a week to see how she was doing. We’re committed to the caregiver; we’re with them even after their loved one has died.”
Listening, offering emotional support and providing information on community resources are some ways hospice takes care of the caregiver.