Being the main caregiver for a loved one with cancer is challenging. Caregivers sometimes put their own needs and feelings aside while practicing patience and providing emotional support and encouragement. As a caregiver, you also may be taking on new roles that consume a majority of your emotional and physical energy.


Caregivers may experience the same roller coaster of emotions patients do, such as anger, guilt, grief, hopelessness, loneliness and depression. And you may also have very different emotions from those of the patient. You may place expectations on yourself to be perfect, or feel hurt when the person you are caring for takes their anger out on you. Remember that you are doing your best in a difficult situation and go easy on yourself. 

Caring for Yourself

Caregivers tend to put themselves last. You may not find the time for yourself or think your own needs are as important right now. Or perhaps you may feel guilty about getting enjoyment from anything at all. The combined pressures of all of these new responsibilities, of having to change your habits and routines, and the increased worry is a lot to handle. 

Dealing with Burnout

If you are starting to burn out, you may feel exhausted, irritated and uninterested in activities that once brought you pleasure. Your own health and welfare are important. Recognize your limits and learn to delegate responsibilities so you can take time for yourself. There are other things that you can do, including:

  • Seeking support from others in the same situation.
  • Practicing stress reduction techniques.
  • Giving yourself permission for quality time alone.
  • Grieving for the losses that your loved one’s illness brings.
  • Becoming empowered by learning about pancreatic cancer.
  • Maintaining the patient’s independence by not insisting on doing everything.
  • Not making all activities revolve around the disease.

Staying Connected With Your Loved One

Staying connected with a loved one in a normal, healthy way may be difficult. Try to view this person as they were before their diagnosis. Do something fun together or celebrate a special occasion. Cherish their presence in the here and now. Help them create a special physical space for health and healing, and make it a special place for both of you. Touch and hug your loved one.

Think of your relationship as a team effort to stay connected, reduce stress and improve communication. It also may help your loved one feel more in control of some situations. For example, discuss:

  • In the past, what other difficult times have we gone through together? How did we handle the problem?
  • Which family and healthcare tasks do each of us prefer doing?
  • Are there any tasks that we can share?
  • What are the ways we can help each other?
  • What activities can we do together to have fun and forget about cancer?

Talking about cancer is a good way to stay connected, but it may be difficult at times. When talking about the disease, use the same words that your loved one uses, such as my disease and not pancreatic cancer. Sometimes, the best way to communicate is just to listen.

Additional information is available in The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living by palliative care specialist Ira Byock, M.D.

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