Published on March 21, 2021

A young female caregiver talks with an older female cancer patient.

Self-care helps caregivers assist loved ones in treatment

Family members and friends providing support for cancer patients quickly learn how to offer practical help and emotional assistance. Making meals, running errands and engaging in active, compassionate listening greatly benefits people going through cancer treatment.

There are other ways caregivers can help their loved ones that are often overlooked.

Aaron Jonasen, LPC, an oncology counselor, leads cancer patient and caregiver support groups at the UW Health Cancer Center at ProHealth Care. He recommends focusing on two fundamental ways to support cancer patients during the pandemic – practicing self-care and maintaining safety precautions in the home.

"It’s difficult for people to give themselves permission to take care of themselves," Jonasen said. "They can feel internal pressure to focus on their loved ones 24/7. I would encourage them to embrace the fact that taking care of themselves is the best way to take care of others."

He advises caregivers to:

  • Give yourself permission to focus on your own needs.
  • Do things that put fuel in your tank.
  • Engage in rewarding activities even when your loved one can’t participate.
  • Remind yourself about everything you do for others.

Helping to prevent cancer patients and family members from becoming exposed to health risks is another essential way to provide care and support. Cancer patients undergoing treatment are vulnerable to infections because treatment weakens their immune systems. They have fewer infection-fighting white blood cells, making it harder for them to ward off disease.

Fortunately, the best way to help prevent infections is also the easiest.

Always wash your hands:

  • Before and after treating a cut or wound or caring for a port, catheter or other access device.
  • After going to the bathroom, changing diapers or helping another person in the bathroom.
  • Before, during and after cooking and eating food.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After cleaning up after a pet or touching trash.

Jonasen said simple yet essential practices can help caregivers reach higher level goals.  

"At the end of the day, everyone wants to be a better spouse, parent, daughter, son or friend," he said. "This is what self-care and infection prevention are all about."