Listen to the Cancer.Net Podcast: When Caregiving Ends , adapted from this content.
A caregiver plays an important role in supporting a person with cancer, providing physical, emotional, and practical care on a daily or as-needed basis. Providing this support can become a caregiver's sole focus, especially when a family member or friend is undergoing a long treatment plan.
However, as the treatment and disease changes, so does the caregiver's role, which will eventually come to an end. When the person you care about goes into remission (meaning the signs and symptoms of cancer decrease or disappear), a caregiver may struggle to adjust to “normal life” after caregiving. Here are some tips to help during this time of adjustment. For help on coping with the death of someone you cared for, read these articles on grief and bereavement .
What to do now
As a caregiver, you may have devoted an enormous amount of time and emotional support to your family member or friend. When that person no longer needs your help, your sense of purpose or self-worth may be affected. You may feel unsure of how to start a “new” life that does not include this role.
Resume activities you enjoy. While you were caregiving, you may have been too busy, or felt it was disrespectful, to spend time on activities that made you happy. Join or re-join an activity club, or dedicate time to a new hobby that you have wanted to try.
Re-establish relationships. Reach out to family members, friends, or co-workers that you may have fallen out of touch with.
Take care of your body. The stress of caregiving can lead some people to develop or increase unhealthy habits such as smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and drinking too much alcohol. Focus on letting go of bad habits and making time to exercise, eat healthy foods, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep. If you cannot make healthy changes on your own, talk with your doctor.
Go back to work. If you have taken a leave of absence or left your job, consider returning. Staying busy may make it easier for you during this time of transition.
Support a cause or help others. Although caregiving can be challenging, you may have found that you gained a sense of satisfaction from providing your support. Consider offering your time to organizations that help people with cancer, or get involved with cancer advocacy or another cause or charity that you feel strongly about. Learn more about being a cancer advocate  and making a difference .
Write in a journal. Writing about the stresses and events in your life provides a private way to express your feelings, look back at your journey, and clarify new goals. Learn more about moving forward with journaling .
When someone you care about finishes treatment
Transitioning into a future that does not include caregiving may be a different experience when someone you care about survives cancer than when someone passes away. Learning that a cancer has been treated successfully can bring a great deal of relief. However, just as the cancer survivor may be concerned about the cancer coming back, it is normal for a caregiver to have the same worry. It can be difficult to accept that you have no way to control or predict the health of the person you care about, but these tips may help you manage your concern:
Understand the disease. The likelihood that a cancer will come back, or recur, depends on the type of the cancer. Most cancers have a predictable pattern of recurrence . Talk with the person's doctor, who can provide more information and statistics about the likelihood of a recurrence, and read more about coping with the fear of recurrence .
Ask to stay informed. After successful treatment of cancer ends, patients are given a plan for follow-up care, which usually includes visits to the doctor and a schedule for tests, to lower the risk of recurrence. Talk with the person about the plan they have been given. Ask if he or she will keep you updated, and how you can help with following the plan. How much or how little you are involved in follow-up care depends on the person's desires and needs. However, offering your support may help you feel less anxious about a recurrence.
Connecting with support resources
Sometimes a person may need help from others to adjust to life after caregiving. Several studies have shown that caregivers are at an increased risk for depression, which include feelings of sadness and despair that interfere with daily activities. If you are experiencing these feelings or have other signs of depression , talk with your doctor to get help.
Counseling. Talking about problems and receiving guidance from a trained mental health professional can help reduce stress, improve coping and decision-making skills, and improve overall quality of life. Talk with your doctor about the types of problems you are having and what type of counseling might be best. Learn more about the benefits of counseling  and how to find a counselor .
Support groups. A support group  is a safe place for you to share experiences and learn from others who have experienced caregiving. Ask your doctor, hospital discharge unit, or a social worker for help with finding one, or explore these caregiving resources .
Last Updated: January 25, 2010