Roles & challenges

Being a caregiver for a patient with cancer is one of the most difficult and emotionally challenging roles a person can take on. Sometimes you become a care giver gradually, willingly or by default, and sometimes, this role can come upon you quite suddenly due to a sudden illness.  Whatever the means by which you become a care giver, it is important to realize that many emotions can surface when you take on the job of care giving.  Some of these feelings might happen straight away and some might not surface until you have been care giving for awhile.

Cancer treatment usually involves patients taking a lot of different medications, which can be difficult to keep track of. On top of drugs that attack the cancer, patients  may also require medicines for pain, nausea, low blood counts and other cancer-related symptoms. Organizing and keeping track of these medications can be a challenge. Don’t be afraid to ask your local pharmacist or GP for help and advice on managing medications.

Tips for Managing Medications

Create a list that includes all the information about specific medications:

  • Name and strength of the medication
  • Dosage instructions
  • The color of the pill
  • How often you should be taking it and times you should be taking it.
  • Whether it needs to be taken under certain conditions eg. with food.
  • What you are taking it for
  • When you began taking it
  • Any food or drug interactions
  • Any over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements you’re taking. Some of these can interact with your prescription medication and possibly interfere with their effectiveness.

Use a pill organizer: These containers are available in most pharmacies. They come in different shapes and sizes and have separate compartments for pills to be taken each day, or at different times of the day.

Make a schedule: Create a schedule with each pill along with when and how the should be taken. Tick off each pill on your schedule as you take it.

Set an alarm: Set an alarm on your phone to remind you when medication needs to be taken.

Learn the side effects: make sure you know all the potential side effects do that you can prepare yourself if any of them do occur.

Know how to store it: Make sure that you know how to store the medication properly. It make have to be kept in the fridge or maybe have to be kept room temperature. Make sure that you know how to correctly keep it.

Taking Care of a Cancer Patient.

Cancer patients spend less time in the hospital and more at home than ever before. This means that caregivers do jobs that used to be handled only by trained health care professionals. There are many common cancer symptoms that a carer has to know how to deal with.

Nausea: Cancer patients spend less time in the hospital and more at home than ever before. This means caregivers do jobs that used to be handled only by trained health care professionals. Many chemotherapy drugs and radiation cause nausea (upset stomach), but there are medicines to prevent nausea and vomiting. Please talk to your doctor or nurse if you are having nausea.

Diarrhea: Diarrhea is a symptom that can be caused by many things. It is
important to treat the cause of diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by chemotherapy,radiation, or surgery. If you do have diarrhea make sure that you talk to your doctor. Diarrhea flushes fluids and sodium out of the patient’s body. This needs to be replaced. Make sure that the patient drinks plenty of water and low carbohydrate electrolyte drinks such as diluted Powerade. Sodium (salt) also needs to be replaced. This can be done by eating salted crackers or broth such as chicken broth. Potassium must also be replaced with bananas ad skinless potato. Avoid foods that are high in fiber such as beans,peas and whole grains as well as avoiding alcohol.

Fatigue: Fatigue is the most common symptom experienced by cancer patients. It is treatable, but most patients do not report symptoms to their doctor. Fatigue can have a negative impact on quality of life as well as physical impacts on the patient.Try these simple tips to boost your energy and fight fatigue.

  • Exercise regularly. A short 20-minute walk can help you relax as well as help to wake you up. avoid exercise in the evening.
  • Limit naps if possible. If you must nap, keep it under 30 minutes, and do something active right after waking. This will help you to stick to your regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and nicotine in the evening.
  • Turn off the TV and avoid screens one hour before bedtime. Listen to quiet music or take a warm bath instead.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. This means trying to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.

Pain: Nearly half of cancer patients experience pain, which can show up in various ways. It may be short-lived or long-lasting, mild or severe, or even affect one or a few organs and bones. Since pain is unique, different treatments are used on different patients. Pain can be a result of treatment, from the tumor pressing against nerves or from post-operative pain. Many medicines are used for cancer pain management. Some drugs are general pain relievers, while others target specific types of pain and may require a prescription. Talk to your doctor about getting specific pain relievers.

It’s important to understand that while you care for the patient, you may not always know how to help them. If the person your caring for’s symptoms get worse, or stay the same for an extended period of time, seek advice from their medical team or a health care professional.

It’s also important to look after yourself so you can effectively care for someone else. Family Carers Ireland has lot of information and support in place to help carers do their jobs. For more information and resources visit the Family Carers Ireland homepage.