Being a Caregiver to a Loved One with Skin Cancer

A skin cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and life-changing for an individual, as well as their friends and family. Managing skin cancer can require a team, beyond just the individual affected and their healthcare providers. Many times, an individual will require the aid of their personal support network in order to successfully navigate their treatment course and one or a few individuals who may need to transition into a caregiver role. Becoming a caregiver to a loved one with skin cancer can be life-changing as well, and can be a full-time commitment. Although one may not hesitate to be a caregiver for a loved one, there are several factors to consider, and many ways to be the best caregiver possible, while still remaining independent and healthy.

Do your research, but be cautious

One way to gain confidence and a plan of action for being a caregiver is to get informed. Learning more about skin cancer and your loved one’s specific situation will not only help you figure out what steps to take next, but can also help filter out extraneous information for your loved one. The Internet is a wonderful resource; however, there can be infinite amounts of information, statistics, and opinions, and some of this content is unverified or not fact-checked, and some information can be outright incorrect. It can be easy for you or your loved one to be overwhelmed by the data and horror stories you read. Taking the time to determine which sites and information are accurate and helpful, while filtering out the rest, can prevent you from experiencing information overload. It will also allow you to point your loved one towards reputable and helpful sources. It is important to note that the information in our community is verified by teams of experts, and can be a safe and reliable outlet to use.

Be a part of the team

Being a part of your loved one’s healthcare team can be a crucial step when acting as a caregiver. We often forget information we hear, especially if we’re distracted with fear or anxiety. Attending doctor’s appointments and acting as an extra set of ears for your loved one will help get a clearer picture of what their providers are recommending and what their current situation is. Additionally, keeping a journal of potential side effects, notes, questions, and general feelings, and bringing it with you to loved one’s appointments can further help fill in your loved one’s team, and help determine what treatments or steps to take next. Your loved one may not be comfortable with you attending their appointments. Many providers will allow you to make your own appointment with their team to go through any issues, concerns, or questions you may have, and many will be willing to discuss over the phone, given the patient’s consent.

Further, skin cancer is unique in that there is a chance of recurrence for those who have been diagnosed. For this reason, it is very important to perform regular skin examinations to monitor for any unusual changes. While your loved one may be able to perform a basic examination on their own, an extra set of eyes in hard-to-see places may prove to be incredibly effective. Research has pointed to an increase in early detection of additional skin cancer growths for individuals who perform regular skin examinations with a partner.1

Practice self-care

You can only be as good of a caregiver as your mind and body allow you to be. This means taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Practicing self-care such as participating in hobbies you enjoy, socializing with friends and family, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, and getting good sleep can keep you in strong shape to care for another. It’s not selfish to put yourself first when you need to. Caregiver fatigue is a serious feeling that can prevent you from being an effective caregiver. Signs of caregiver fatigue include weight or blood pressure changes, anxiety, depression, overwhelmed feelings, insomnia, colds, headaches, insomnia, and general exhaustion.

Maintain communication

Keep open lines of communication between you and your loved one, as well as other family members and friends. It’s important to have constructive dialogue with the loved one you’re caring for, to establish what they are looking for from you as their support system, as well as what you need to continue to provide healthy support. Being honest and talking to your loved one can also help you learn more about what treatments they want, what they’re truly going through, and how they want to move forward in their treatment. This could mean creating documents like Advanced Directives, which are legally-binding and describe how your loved one wants to be cared for in the event that they cannot make their own decisions, or who should make their decisions for them. Also, it’s common to feel overwhelmed and need a break or a hand. Maintaining communication with others in your support network can help you delegate tasks when necessary, to avoid caregiver fatigue later.

Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: May 2017.
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