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Caregiver Roles and Challenges in NJ, CT, MD, and the Washington, D.C., Area

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is affected. Often, a close family member or friend ends up serving in a caregiving role, helping the patient navigate cancer treatment. Caring for a person with cancer is a labor of love, but it can be challenging, too.

Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) is committed to providing educational resources for patients and their caregivers. With extensive experience in treating all types of cancer, as well as blood disorders, the doctors of Regional Cancer Care Associates serve patients in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area. Learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage caregiver burnout.

Caregiver Responsibilities

A caregiver is a person who spends time and energy helping a patient with cancer. They may be the patient’s spouse, partner, parent, sibling, or friend. Regardless of the relationship, the caregiver performs a wide range of support tasks. These can include:

  • Driving the patient to and from chemotherapy or radiation therapy appointments
  • Keeping track of the patient’s medication regimen
  • Changing wound dressings
  • Managing infusion ports
  • Organizing the patient’s medical records
  • Accompanying the patient to doctor visits
  • Serving as the patient’s healthcare proxy

Caregiving may be a short-term role, or it may turn into a long-term responsibility, depending on the patient’s course of treatment and subsequent state of health.

Patient and caregiver seated on a couch and smiling together

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Being a caregiver is a major responsibility. An individual might be managing caregiving tasks on top of work, school, or childcare duties. Because caregivers can become so busy attending to a loved one’s needs, they may neglect their own physical and mental health. Caregiver burnout is a state of emotional and sometimes physical exhaustion caused by unsustainable demands on a person’s time and resources.

The causes of caregiver burnout can vary. Some caregivers have unrealistic expectations and don’t realize when they are becoming overwhelmed. Others may find it difficult to separate their role as a caregiver from their relationship with the patient. Caregivers may also feel burdened by the financial and logistical challenges of managing cancer care.

Signs of Burnout

Learning to recognize the signs of burnout is important for both the caregiver and the patient. A caregiver might feel particularly discouraged if the person with cancer isn’t getting better or if the cancer is spreading. The symptoms of caregiver burnout can include:

  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Substance abuse
  • Lack of interest in activities the caregiver previously enjoyed

Often, burnout can mirror signs of depression. In extreme cases, the caregiver might have thoughts of hurting themselves or the person receiving care.

Managing Caregiver Burnout

Caring for a loved one with cancer may not be easy, but certain practices can help a caregiver manage stress and maintain a positive outlook. These can include:

Accepting Help

Caregivers need to be realistic about what they can accomplish individually and ask friends and family for help, if necessary.

Use Respite Care Services

These healthcare services give caregivers a temporary break when needed. Respite care services may be available on a paid or volunteer basis.

Seek Mental Health Support

Talking with a counselor or joining a caregiver support group can be beneficial. This helps caregivers share strategies and know they’re not alone.

Ask for Resources

 The more information caregivers have about their loved one’s cancer, the more empowered they will feel. Get accurate information from the patient’s medical provider.

Take Time Off

Some individuals may be eligible for unpaid time off from work through the Family Leave and Medical Act (FMLA). If financially feasible, this can help a caregiver manage the stress load. Some employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that helps offset the cost of counseling for caregivers or lets them take paid time off.

Practice Self-Care

While it may be tempting to focus only on the patient, caregivers must prioritize their needs, as well. This includes getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a balanced diet.

By investing in their own health, caregivers will be better able to support their loved ones over the long term.  

Choose Regional Cancer Care Associates

Patients and their loved ones will find compassionate, expert care from the oncology team at Regional Cancer Care Associates. Serving patients throughout New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area, RCCA’s highly experienced oncologists, hematologists, advanced practice providers, and other clinicians offer the latest cancer treatments, as well as comprehensive patient education and caregiver resources. To request an appointment, contact one of Regional Cancer Care Associates’ locations today.