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Caregiver FAQs

Updated March 30, 2010

My partner was just diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and I feel completely overwhelmed. I want to help her but I don’t know how.

I worry a lot about my wife, who has metastatic breast cancer. But I don’t want to burden her with my concerns. Who can I talk to about my worries?

My partner has metastatic breast cancer and doesn’t have the energy to do such household tasks as cooking, shopping and cleaning. I try to do as much as possible, but I work full time and often don’t have energy for this myself, on top of caring for our children. Where can I turn to for help?

I know I need to be there for my mother who has metastatic breast cancer, but it’s wearing me down and I feel guilty and torn about it. How can I take care of her and also take care of myself?

Q: My partner was just diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and I feel completely overwhelmed. I want to help her but I don’t know how.

A: A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can be devastating not only for the woman who is diagnosed, but also for the entire family. It’s normal for you to feel anxious, angry, depressed and overwhelmed. It’s also important to face your feelings and move on so you can be there for your partner in a way that works for both of you.

Your relationship with your partner is bound to change following her diagnosis, and this can be a very scary thought. But many couples report that their relationships actually deepen and become closer and more meaningful when one partner is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

Open and honest communication is the key to getting through this difficult time together. Rather than assuming that you know what she may or may not need, ask how you can help. Some questions you can ask are:

  • Do you mainly need a shoulder to cry on? Or do you want to focus on practical, everyday things to keep your mind off the diagnosis?
  • Can I go with you to doctors’ appointments?
  • Can I help more around the house?
  • Can I take you on a long-awaited vacation?

By listening and sharing your own thoughts and feelings, you can work together to build your relationship in a positive way moving forward. You may also want to check out some of the resources we list.

Q: I worry a lot about my wife, who has metastatic breast cancer. But I don’t want to burden her with my concerns. Who can I talk to about my worries?

Talking with your wife about your concern for her well-being may actually be a good place to start. She may appreciate the opportunity to share some common fears, and you can both find ways to support one another.

If you find it difficult to talk about this with your wife, consider talking with a close friend, counselor, clergy or other spiritual advisor. You also might find it helpful to join a support group for the partners or caregivers of people with cancer. Sharing your concerns with others can help ease the burden of those concerns.

Q: My partner has metastatic breast cancer and doesn’t have the energy to do such household tasks as cooking, shopping and cleaning. I try to do as much as possible, but I work full time and often don’t have energy for this myself, on top of caring for our children. Where can I turn to for help?

There are many people and organizations that are more than willing to offer help. These resources may include friends, family members, colleagues and neighbors. Religious groups and community organizations often have volunteers who can help with household tasks or other needs.

Start by preparing a written list of the chores or errands you need help with. Then ask a friend or family member to enlist those who are eager to help you.

People that care about you will feel better if they can assist you during your time of need. Consider using online services such as Lotsa Helping Hands or CarePages to connect family and friends and share news, support and encouragement. You can give updates and ask for help with errands and whatever else is necessary for life to run smoothly during a health crisis.

Q: I know I need to be there for my mother who has metastatic breast cancer, but it’s wearing me down and I feel guilty and torn about it. How can I take care of her and also take care of myself?

A: One of the most difficult things about caring for a loved one with metastatic breast cancer is what is sometimes called "caregiver fatigue." This is when you spend so much time and energy caring for your loved one that you forget to take care of yourself.

If you are exhausted, frazzled and emotionally drained, you can’t be much help to your mother. It’s very important to realize what’s happening, take a step back, and start eating, sleeping and exercising regularly to keep your own energy up so that you can continue to offer help and support while not neglecting your own health and quality of life.

Here are some resources to help you understand and deal with "caregiver fatigue":

All FAQs reviewed by Elyse Spatz Caplan, MA

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