Who’s Caring for the Breast Cancer Caregiver?
Breast cancer takes a toll on the whole family—hospice care can help.
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. This is the life of someone caring for a patient with late-stage breast cancer.
For this caregiver and so many others like him, the days are long, sleep is short and worry never leaves. As they hurry through each busy day taking care of everyone and everything around them, their strength and determination belies their exhaustion and begs the question, “Who’s taking care of the caregiver?”
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 This care extends beyond the patient to include the caregiver and, in effect, the whole family.
Hospice care brings together the skills of many healthcare professionals, including a physician, nurse, social worker, hospice aide, chaplain, specialty therapists (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.
Benefits for both patients and caregivers
Hospice care benefits the breast cancer patient first 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.
The issues are different for the breast cancer caregiver. A member of the hospice care team can walk him or her 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 shown to have 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, someone to explain complicated medical procedures, or just a warm cup of tea and a listening ear, knowing he or she no longer has to handle everything alone can reduce a caregiver’s feelings of depression, anxiety and overload.³
Hospice care—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 talk 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, and I made sure to call her 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 giving information on additional resources for help and support—these are some ways hospice takes care of the caregiver.
- 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 or accept help when it is offered.
- Allow yourself to keep doing the hobbies you love.
- Try relaxation techniques such as meditation or therapeutic massage.
- Keep a positive attitude.
¹ Click for source