Providing care or helping someone close to you who has cancer is demanding and requires several skills and adjustments on a daily basis.


Taking care a of a sick loved one.

It is not always easy to look after someone on a regular basis. It requires a great deal of generosity and it means giving up many things. Moreover, the emotional relationship we have with that person, whether our brother, son or friend often means that we have to take on additional responsibilities and play several roles. This is a risk that shouldbe of concern to you.  A strong feeling of guilt, based on the ideal care that we would like to provide, can also contribute to excessive caregiving, leading to a position of vulnerability.


How can I be useful?

Initially, it is very important to understand the condition of the young man who is sick. It is appropriate that he should be consulted so that he can voice his real needs and confirm the type of help he may want. Secondly, it may be appropriate to call upon other resources. Simply sharing responsibilities with others (CLSC, friends, family members …) will help avoid a burnout. Do not lose sight of the fact that the quality of services is just as important as the quality of the relationship that you have with the person who is ill.


How do I define tasks I want to accomplish?

As caregivers, we must determine what it is that we are willing to offer. Personal resources are not boundless. Be realistic, there are many ways to help:

  • Offer to accompany and drive him to appointments
  • Participate in everyday activities, grocery shopping, meals, laundry, housekeeping, etc.
  • Be there to help break the isolation


How to communicate effectively?

Given that the person who is ill often faces physical and emotional changes that contribute to his mood swings, and emotional roller-coaster, it is essential that, as a caregiver, you adjust your own level of communication. There are many situations that require a lot of understanding and empathy.

For example, when the patient…

  • Shows intense feelings, expresses new fears, anger, sadness … is more irritable, sensitive, and impatient
  • Expresses new needs. He wants to be reassured, encouraged, and wants to be taken care of. He is waiting for signs of affection
  • Sees things differently and refuses certain forms of help from his caregiver
  • Feels an urgency to live because he has become aware of his own fragility

You have to remain calm, listen to him and reassure him that you hear what he is saying; intervene gently, with as much tact and diplomacy as you can. In case of conflict it may be useful to ask for help from a third party or a professional.

It’s not because you love someone that you understand what he is going through and are able to help. Always check with him first.  


What can lead to a burnout?

Cancer treatments are often spread out over several months. A long term commitment can lead to physical and/or psychological fatigue. While you are taking care of someone else, you also have to look after yourself. You must not forget your own needs so that you can continue to provide services and the best of yourself to the person you care for. When you are related to someone, there are often feelings of guilt and powerlessness associated with this type of situation.

It is important that you pay careful attention to any change in yourself, at the first signs of a burnout, e.g., intense emotions, uncontrollable fear, sadness, guilt, unusual behaviors of impatience or irritability, dark thoughts such as discouragement, feelings of dizziness, vertigo, severe fatigue. If such symptoms do appear, you must immediately take the necessary steps to remedy this. If the situation feels insurmountable, do not hesitate to inform the oncology team treating your loved one, or consult a physician yourself or another health care professional.


What are the most common myths?

Here are but a few examples:

  • All his needs are more important than mine
  • I have to be available at all times
  • I do not have to right to be angry, and even less right to express it
  • I have the impression that I am not doing enough, I should do more
  • I do not have the right to bother him with my concerns
  • I do not have the right to tell him that I am tired
  • I have to accept everything (bad mood, criticism, etc. )

Some of these myths cause us make wrong choices that are harmful to our own wellbeing, lead us to a burnout and infantilizes him.


How do I keep up my own strength and joie de vivre ?

  • Save some time for yourself and enjoy yourself, e.g. massages, movies, outings with friends, etc.
  • Stay close to nature and enjoy the beauty of things, for example take a walk in the woods or near a lake, be aware of the small pleasures of everyday life
  • Delegate, for example, hire someone to clean your house
  • Share your concerns with others, do not remain isolated
  • Recognize and respect your limits, talk about them and see who can pick up where you left off
  • Know and use the resources that are available to help you. (see Resources)


Source : Adapted from the health education pamphlet « Prendre soin d’un proche atteint de cancer» written by the CHUM oncology psychologist within the framework a the DQPSEP health education project, 2014.