As a caregiver for someone living with cancer and beginning treatment with cancer immunotherapy, you will likely have to deal with many issues and emotions that might be new for you. Although caring for a loved one can be challenging at times, it is an important role and can be a profoundly rewarding experience.
Here are some tips to help you as you care for your loved one through treatment with cancer immunotherapy, as well as some advice to make sure you are also taking care of yourself during this time.
Providing emotional support
Your loved one will likely experience a rollercoaster of emotions as they face their cancer diagnosis and go through their cancer immunotherapy treatment.
Here are some ways you can help:
Listen – Your loved one may feel overwhelmed and will simply need someone to share their feelings with, without being judged or counseled in any way.
Support their treatment decisions – Deciding which treatment route to take is an incredibly personal decision. Whether or not you agree with their choice, your loved one will need to feel supported.
Recognize the signs of depression – It is normal for your loved one to feel sad, angry or anxious during this time. However, if you notice that your loved one is beginning to feel particularly overwhelmed, with prolonged periods of crying, changes in sleep or weight, difficulty concentrating or no longer enjoys things that they used to, they may be struggling with depression. Speak with their doctor if you suspect your loved one might be depressed.
Know when to seek help – If you think your loved one requires additional help dealing with their emotions, suggest getting help from a professional, such as a counselor or support group.
Helping during treatment
Your loved one will have many doctor appointments as they undergo cancer immunotherapy treatment. A large part of being their caregiver will involve accompanying them to their various appointments, where you can help in the following ways:
Prepare for appointments by gathering relevant information from reliable sources
Write down a list of questions to ask the doctor
Bring a notebook or recorder to log the information provided so you don’t miss or forget anything important after you leave
Ask any follow-up questions that you or your loved one might have
Be your loved one’s spokesperson at appointments and during treatments. Ensure the doctor understands their treatment wishes and inform them of any side effects your loved one may be experiencing
Coping with side effects
As with any drug or medical treatment, you could expect your loved one to have some side effects while on cancer immunotherapy. Which side effects they experience, as well as their severity, depend on many factors, like their overall health, the type of cancer being treated, which medication is being used and how it is given to them. Although you can’t prevent side effects from occurring, there are ways you can help your loved one deal with some of the symptoms they may experience.
Dealing with flu-like symptoms
Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, weakness, nausea, diarrhea, body aches or fatigue are common side effects of cancer immunotherapy.
Rest and medication, such as acetaminophen, can be useful in managing these symptoms.
Dealing with fatigue
Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment. To help reduce this symptom, encourage your loved one to:
- Take several short rests or naps throughout the day
- Do some light exercise, like going for a walk
- Reduce physically-intense activities
- Let you or someone else help with any tiring tasks, such as housework or trips to the grocery store
Always let the doctor know right away about any side effect your loved one might experience. He or she will be able to find ways to help reduce or manage these side effects to make the treatment with cancer immunotherapy as comfortable as possible.
Taking care of yourself
As a caregiver, your focus will often be on your loved one’s daily needs. But taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do to be there for your loved one.
Here are some tips to help you care for yourself during this time:
Stay healthy – Make sure that you are meeting your basic needs: eat a healthy, balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and stay active.
Acknowledge your emotions – Caring for a loved one while they go through treatment with cancer immunotherapy can be a difficult and overwhelming time. To help you deal with the emotions you will face along the way, you can do the following:
- Keep a journal
- Speak often with family and friends about what you are going through and how you feel
- Don’t feel guilty about negative emotions; understand that what you are feeling is normal
- Practice breathing exercises or meditation
- Join a support group for caregivers
Take time away – Caregiving can be a 24/7 job. It is important that you take breaks and get away to allow yourself a chance to relax, recharge or do something that you enjoy. Don’t feel guilty about your time away; caring for yourself allows you to be a better caregiver for your loved one.
Ask for help – Learning to accept help from others might be difficult at first, but it will prove to be an invaluable tool over time. Sharing the load with others will make your job as a caregiver more manageable. Even little things like having someone else cook a meal, or make a trip to the pharmacy, can make a big difference. Know and accept your own limits, and don’t be shy to ask for help.