Caregiving Basics

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2019

A caregiver is someone who provides physical, practical, and emotional support to a person with cancer. They may do many different things. For example, they may:

  • Give support and encouragement

  • Give medicines

  • Help manage symptoms and side effects

  • Help make appointments or give rides

  • Help with meals or chores

  • Help with legal and financial issues, such as bills and insurance

Types of caregiving

There are many ways to be a caregiver. Some caregivers take care of the person with cancer 24 hours a day. Others do research or find help. If you are a caregiver, you might live with the person who is sick, visit, or help them by phone or online. Every situation is different, and things can change as the cancer and treatment change.

Live-in caregiver

This is usually the main caregiver. They are often a husband, wife, or other partner. Another family member, neighbor, or friend might also be a live-in caregiver. Most caregivers live within 20 minutes of the person they care for, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Long-distance caregiver

A family member or friend who manages care, but does not live nearby. A long-distance caregiver often helps by phone or email. They may also arrange for help from friends and family who do live nearby.

Being a long-distance caregiver can be stressful. You might worry more because the person with cancer is far away. When you do visit, you might worry about the travel costs. But you can find ways to be a helpful caregiver no matter where you live.

Sharing caregiver responsibilities

Some caregivers share the responsibility with other people. Different people do different things to help the person and family living with cancer. For example, members of a club or church might take turns bringing food or taking care of children.

Family members can have difficulty sharing responsibilities. Old arguments and hurt feelings may come up or get worse. But sometimes, caring for a family member with cancer brings people closer.

Caregiving challenges and rewards

The challenges of caregiving may include:

  • Physical and emotional stress

  • Less time for personal and family life

  • Balancing caregiving with your job

  • Financial stress

  • Lack of privacy

  • Feeling lonely or isolated

You can manage the challenges of caregiving. Start by looking at all of your caregiving choices. Then choose some ways to take care of yourself while giving care.

Being a caregiver can have rewards, too. They may include:

  • Knowing you are doing as much as you can for your loved one with cancer.

  • Helping improve their quality of life and their well-being.

  • Having a new or deeper relationship with the person you care for.

  • Showing others how to give in a positive way.

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

Related Resources

Young Adults Caring For a Parent With Cancer

Now What? 10 Ways to Adjust to Life After Caregiving

Meal Trains: Providing Food Safely to People With Cancer

If You Have Self-Doubt When Caring for a Loved One With Cancer

More Information

National Cancer Institute: When Someone You Love is Being Treated for Cancer

National Alliance for Caregiving

Caregiver Action Network

University of California San Francisco: Orientation to Caregiving: A Handbook for Family Caregivers of Patients with Brain Tumors (PDF)

The free ASCO Answers Guide to Caring for a Loved One With Cancer includes practical tips, advice for communicating with family and the health care team, and worksheets to help track medications and coordinate caregiving tasks. Download this guide as a printable PDF in English (44 pages) or in Spanish (40 pages).