Caregivers of Breast Cancer Patients

I have gotten so many emails from caregivers of breast cancer patients – from daughters, spouses, partners, and friends.  It is such a difficult and challenging job.  If you are a caregiver, I deep compassion for you because you feel so helpless and don’t know how to make your loved one feel better.  And the ages of their patients have ranged from in their 30s to in their 80s which obviously makes a huge difference.

I’m single and my mom was my caregiver.  I don’t know what I would have done without her.   She cooked me pancakes, made me banana cake, and mashed potatoes made with cottage cheese.  Not the best diet, but it was all I could eat and craved during A/C Chemo!    It was good just knowing she was there if I needed anything.  That was the greatest gift she gave me – her presence.  So often there was really nothing she could do for me.  And because of steroids, I probably got a little testy with her to say the least.

That is the greatest gift you can give to any cancer patient.  Just being there for them.  It sounds so simple, but so much of the process just has to be endured by the patient.  It is tempting to try and push them to do more than they are capable of doing because you so desperately want to see them well.   They will get there.  It just takes so much time.

My best advice would be this:

1)  Don’t try to make them eat things they don’t want to eat.  Do attempt to add protein in creative ways to things they might want.  Example – the cottage cheese blended into pancakes or potatoes or noodle dishes, peanut butter into anything, and whatever other ideas you can create!  I could not tolerate any meat, but your patient may be different.

2)  The steroids change their moods dramatically.  For me, it was like I was living in someone else’s body and emotions.  Try to be as understanding as possible which is tough.  And realize that the mood swings are the drugs talking.

3)  If they are in the middle of A/C Chemo, don’t let them go to the grocery store alone.  It is so hard to go to the grocery store.  They may feel up to going, but once they get in there, it might be overwhelming because of the smells and the stamina it takes to do so.  One lady wrote and said her mom felt like going but passed out in the checkout line because her blood sugar dropped.   Once they switch to Taxol or another chemo drug, they will be able to go alone.

4)  Make sure they are getting enough fluids, especially the day before Chemo, the day of Chemo, and the day after Chemo.  Drink, drink, drink that water.  It helps the way you feel.

5)  If you accompany them to Chemo, try to let go of the patient.  During Chemo, the nurses are in control and will usually take care of the patient’s every need.  This would be a great time for you to get a little break and go to the cafeteria, leave and go get a cup of coffee, or do something for you, the Caregiver, while they are being taken care of by Chemo Nurses.  If you feel comfortable enough, leave and go shopping.  I really enjoyed being alone during infusion time as it gave me a chance to talk with other patients, the nurses, and the staff.

6)  A few tips no one may have told you about A/C Chemo –

a)  Patient may have minor but frequent nose bleeds – get them any kind of saline nose spray.  It really helps!

b)  Patient may have rectal bleeding from hemorrhoids – rectal wipes and cream really help.

c)  Make sure they take the anti-nausea meds at the FIRST sign of even a tiny bit of nausea.  You don’t want to wait until it is full-blown nausea.

d)  Let them call the shots about what they can and cannot do.  I had to get out of the house on my good days, but didn’t want to get germs because it was cold and flu season.  So I would just get in the car and drive to get out of the house.  It really helped to make my isolation  more tolerable.

And give yourself some much-needed breaks.  If you are afraid to leave, arrange to have someone come in and stay with them (especially if the patient is elderly).  It is a really challenging and difficult job to be around a chemo patient all the time.  You need a break!  Take it!