Facing New Challenges: Caregiving, Cancer, and COVID

New Brunswick, N.J., November 19, 2020 – Being a caregiver to a person with cancer comes with a set of challenges. While concerned with a loved one’s physical and emotional health and needs, caregivers are likely balancing this responsibly with their own obligations such as family and work. Due to the uncertainty and restrictions that have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers may feel that this role has become increasingly difficult.

Caregivers are now faced with taking extra steps to keep themselves and their loved one with cancer safe. During this time, it is important for caregivers to stay informed and support their loved one with cancer while minimizing the risk of infection, and most importantly, taking time to maintain their own emotional well-being.  

Take steps to prevent contracting COVID-19. Caregivers are often responsible for completing daily tasks for a patient like shopping, picking up prescriptions and taking their loved one to and from appointments. Caregivers should follow all protective measures being taken to prevent the spread of the virus as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and encourage the person they’re caring for to do the same. These include covering your mouth and nose with a mask, frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact, and disinfecting high-contact surfaces. 

Communicate with the cancer care team and stay informed. Caregivers often work closely with a cancer patient’s cancer care team. At this time, cancer patients and their caregivers may have questions about how their disease affects their vulnerability to infection or ways that the pandemic has impacted their cancer care. Communicating with doctors, nurses, social workers and other members of the patient’s cancer care team will help ease some of these concerns.  They can also help you stay informed as the impact of COVID-19 continues to evolve.

Plan ahead. It is important for a caregiver to have a plan in place if they or someone in the household falls ill while caring for a cancer patient. Some ways to plan ahead include designating an alternative caregiver and considering what kind of support and care will be needed for the patient while the caregiver is recovering.

Take care of yourself. One of the most important tasks for cancer caregivers is caring for themselves. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, burdened, and stressed at times while caregiving, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caregivers should prioritize self-care and their own health and well-being by taking time for themselves to relax, engage in activities they enjoy, or consider joining a support group.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey offers support services for cancer patients and caregivers. Learn about our Patient Support Services program. For additional resources, visit: https://www.cinj.org/education/caregiving

Deborah Leif MSW, LCSW, Stephanie Quiroga MSW, LCSW and Sandra Bruno MSW, LSW are licensed clinical social workers at at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.