Caregiving Basics

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2017

Caregivers are often family members or friends who provide important physical, practical, and emotional support to a person with cancer. Caregivers may have a range of responsibilities on a daily or as-needed basis. Below are some of the tasks that caregivers may take on:

  • Providing support and encouragement

  • Giving medications

  • Helping manage symptoms and side effects

  • Coordinating medical appointments

  • Providing a ride to appointments

  • Assisting with meals

  • Helping with daily chores

  • Handling legal and financial issues, including insurance and billing problems

Types of caregiving

There are many ways to be a caregiver. For some, it may mean providing 24-hour care. For others, it may mean researching medical information or arranging for help. Each situation is unique. No one path applies to all people with cancer and their families. And as the disease and treatment changes, so will the caregiver's role.

Caregivers may live in the home, share responsibilities, or provide care from a distance.

Live-in caregiver. One person, such as a spouse or partner has the role of the primary or lead caregiver. Nearby family, friends, or neighbors may also be a caregiver. Most caregivers live within 20 minutes of the person they care for, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Shared responsibility caregiver. Some caregivers share the responsibility with other people. Often, the person who provides each caregiving task is able to best carry out that task.

Combining caregiving among family members is often hard because past conflicts may surface or worsen. However, caring for a person with cancer can also bring families closer together.

Long-distance caregiver. In some cases, a family member or friend who does not live near the person with cancer manages care. A long-distance caregiver often provides services by phone or email.

A long-distance caregiver may arrange for local volunteers, friends, and co-workers to help the person with cancer.

Caring for a person with cancer who lives far away is often emotionally stressful. The distance between caregiver and the person they care for can magnify the usual caregiving worries. It may also cause financial worries. However, there are steps you can take to be an effective caregiver no matter how far away you are.

The challenges and joys of caregiving

To manage the challenges of caregiving, start by looking at all of your caregiving choices. Then, find ways to take care of yourself while giving care.

The challenges of caregiving may include:

  • Physical and emotional stress

  • Less time for personal and family life

  • The need to balance job and caregiving responsibilities

  • Financial stress

  • Lack of privacy

  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness

It is also helpful to focus on the rewarding parts of caregiving:

  • Committing to providing as much support as you can to the person who is ill.

  • Making a difference in the quality of life and well-being of the person who is ill.

  • Getting a unique opportunity to enrich or renew a relationship with the person who is ill.

  • Setting a positive tone of respect and giving that other people can follow.

To learn more, watch a video about caregiving. You can also follow the latest information about caregiving on the Cancer.Net blog.

Related Resources

More Information

Download the free ASCO Answers Guide to Caregiving as a printable PDF in English (36 pages) or in Spanish (40 pages), or order printed copies from the ASCO Store.