If You Have Self-Doubt When Caring for a Loved One With Cancer

Get Permission

When taking care of a loved one with cancer, it’s natural to feel flooded with emotions—grief, guilt, and just plain old exhaustion. Feelings of inadequacy, doubt, or fear can sometimes pop up, too. Maybe you feel like you do not have the necessary skills to be a caregiver; maybe you feel like you will not be able to cope with the potential medical emergencies that could happen; or maybe you feel like you are not patient or strong enough.

These feelings are a normal part of caregiving. However, you are typically more capable than you realize. You can manage your fears first and foremost by recognizing them. Then, once you know which emotions you’re experiencing, you can seek help from medical professionals, family and friends, and professional and volunteer caregiving agencies. It can also help to talk to other caregivers going through similar experiences. Below are tips to help you manage your emotions while caring for a loved one with cancer.

Not Feeling Like You’re Up to the Task

Caregiving is not an easy job. In some cases, it can be a 24-hour, 7-days-per-week commitment. Many of the duties of caregiving are not glamorous, and they can sometimes be unappreciated. At times, you may feel alone and isolated.

On top of that, you might feel like you’re just not up to the task. Taking care of someone with cancer means learning new information and applying new skills. You may be juggling a job; you may have your own health issues; or you may already take care of your children or another family member.

If you’re worried about the task of caregiving ahead of you, tell yourself that feeling overwhelmed is normal. Allow yourself time and patience in taking on new tasks. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes so that you can move on and feel good about taking care of your loved one and yourself.

Schedule a Meeting With Your Loved One’s Health-Care Team

If you have fears about caregiving, talk to your loved one’s doctor, nurse, or another member of the medical team. Tell them about your concerns and fears about not being able to provide this type of care.

Try to get as much information as possible about your loved one’s cancer and its treatment, including the specific caregiving responsibilities that might go along with it. Ask about the best ways to provide day-to-day care. Some of these tasks might include helping your loved one go to the bathroom, take a shower, get dressed, or prepare meals. Other tasks might be more medical in nature, such as changing bandages or giving medication. Make a list of these tasks for yourself so that you can share these responsibilities with family, friends, or professional caregivers if possible.

Caregiving Resources on Cancer.Net

  • Caregivers Taking Care of Themselves
  • Managing Emotions
  • Sharing Responsibilities
  • ASCO Answers: Guide to Caregiving
  • ASCO Answers: Effective Caregiving at Home
  • “I Just Think of Myself as Judy’s Husband”: Taking Care of a Spouse With Cancer

You should also ask about what potential medical emergencies might arise and how you should handle them. Knowing what to expect helps many caregivers regain a sense of control and preparedness—this can help make what’s ahead less scary. For example, people with cancer can more easily get an infection, so be sure to ask about common symptoms.

Finally, ask about other side effects of your loved one’s specific cancer treatments and what you should watch out for. Confirm which member of the health-care team to call during these situations, along with your loved one’s cancer contact information, and how to reach someone after normal business hours. Keep that information posted in your home or enter it in your phone so that you can bring it up easily and quickly in case of an emergency.

Ask for Help From Family and Friends

Take time to think about your own strengths and weaknesses as a caregiver. Meanwhile, allow yourself the gift of self-compassion. No one is good at everything. Go over your list of caregiving responsibilities and note those tasks that you do not feel equipped to do on a daily or weekly basis. They could include things like driving your loved one to appointments in the winter or scheduling multiple doctor appointments or procedures. Maybe you could use help with grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, and other errands.

Ask friends and family to help with those activities. Apps like CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands can help coordinate all types of tasks for your family and friends. Delegating tasks may help you focus on those that you find most important and fulfilling.

Reach Out to Professional or Volunteer Caregivers

Professional caregivers can help with both medical and nonmedical tasks around the home. If possible, hire people to help with tasks you are not comfortable doing. Explore whether your loved one’s insurance might help pay for these services. Medicare and Medicaid usually cover some part-time home health care, and some private insurance plans cover these services, too.

Temporary help for caregivers is called “respite care.” Research respite care programs in your area run by churches, civic groups, or other volunteer organizations. Your local United Way may also be able to tell you about respite care in your community. The American Cancer Society has information on respite care programs, and ARCH National Respite Locator can help locate programs by state.

Join a Caregiver Support Group Nearby or Online

Talking to other caregivers about feelings of fear and anxiety can help. Just knowing that others are going through the same experience can be a relief. Your cancer center may have a support group for caregivers, or the social worker at your hospital may be able to recommend local groups.

You can also search for caregiving support groups online. CancerCare offers support groups for all different groups of people, including spouses/partners and children of patients with cancer, and those helping people with specific types of cancer. They are often moderated by oncology social workers.

Although caregiving might sometimes feel like an overwhelming task, remember that you are more capable than you might believe. There is help available to decrease the anxiety and isolation you may be experiencing as a caregiver.

Most importantly, remember to take care of yourself first and foremost. Setting aside time that’s just for you is important to maintaining your mental, emotional, and physical health as a caregiver. This can be done by something as small as scheduling short breaks throughout the day or by making sure you go to the exercise class you enjoy a few times a week. By putting your well-being first, you are then better able to take care of your loved one, too. 

Originally published on the Cancer.Net Blog on June 2, 2020. Cancer.Net, ASCO’s patient information website, brings the expertise and resources of ASCO to people living with cancer and those who care for and care about them.