10 Tips for Caregivers

A man hugs his wife as they stand inside a sunlit greenhouse

This blog was originally published in November 2015 and was updated for relevancy.

Caregivers to someone with cancer spend an average of 8 hours per day providing care to their loved one. The demands of caregiving depend on several different things — stage of disease, types of symptoms experienced, treatment side effects, and more. A caregiver’s response to the cancer diagnosis, treatment, and journey itself can be just as important as how the patient responds. This makes the need for physical, social, and emotional support for caregivers essential.

Here are 10 tips to help caregivers find balance, support, and connection.

1. Find your support system

When a friend or loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it’s an emotional time. Sometimes it can be difficult to talk with your loved one about your feelings, because you both have so much going on. Many find one of the best ways to cope with stress, uncertainty, and loneliness is to talk to others who share similar experiences. To find your own support system, explore Cancer Support Community’s partner network and find a location near you. We have over 170 locations worldwide, with programs that include support groups, yoga classes, and educational workshops.

You can also connect with others like you on our discussion board for caregivers. Share your unique experiences and offer insights, coping strategies, and inspiration.

“People talk about a caregiver, but you don’t really know what a caregiver is until you’re really in that role…I learned that a caregiver wears many hats: listener, observer, protector, planner, anticipator, the backup brain to the patient, the organizer, the strong one, the levelheaded one. The caregiver is the go-to person all the time…I quickly realized that I could not do it all and that I needed help.”

–  Sheri, bereaved/former caregiver for a close friend

2. Gather information

There is truth to the phrase “Knowledge is power.” There’s no way to completely grasp the ups and downs of a cancer diagnosis and treatment — and you shouldn’t be expected to. Being armed with knowledge may help you accommodate your loved one’s needs and help you know what to expect.

The Cancer Support Community’s Helpline is here to help by offering free navigation for cancer patients or their loved ones. Our navigators can be reached toll-free at 888-793-9355 or online via our live chat service Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. ET, and Saturday-Sunday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET.

3. Recognize a “new normal”

Patients and caregivers alike report feeling a loss of control after a cancer diagnosis. Many caregivers are asked for advice about medical decisions or managing family finances. Some caregivers also need to take on new day-to-day chores. It is likely that your tasks as a caregiver will create new routines—after all, you’re taking on a new role in your loved one’s life as well as your own.

Maintaining a balance between your loved one’s disease and the daily activities of your own life can be a challenge. It may be helpful to identify the parts of your life that you can still control, such as your own health and relationships. In doing this, you will be able to create a strategy for integrating new routines with old ones. It may also help to acknowledge that your home life, finances, and friendships may change for a period of time. Sometimes the laundry might not get done, or maybe takeout will replace home cooking. Try to manage each day’s priority as it comes. Take a deep breath and realize that the support you provide is priceless.

CAREGIVING TIP: Make a list of all of the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of everyone on the cancer care team and put it in a place where it’s readily available, should you need it. Make copies for anyone who is supporting you in your caregiver role.

4. Relax your mind, recharge your body

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the tasks of caregiving. Mini-breaks are an easy way to replenish your energy and lower your stress. Try simple activities like taking a walk around the block or closing your eyes for 10 minutes in a comfortable chair. You are working hard to provide and secure the best care for your loved one. Time spent recharging your mind and body will allow you to avoid depression, major illness, or burnout.

5. Take comfort in others

It’s common for many caregivers to feel a loss of personal time over the course of their loved one’s illness. Keep in mind that while you are taking on new and additional responsibilities, you are still allowed a life of your own. Many seasoned caregivers advise that you continue to be involved with your circle of friends and family.

6. Plan for the future

A common feeling among caregivers and people with cancer is uncertainty. It’s hard to know what the future holds. While planning may be difficult, it can help. Try to schedule fun activities on days when your loved one is not feeling the side effects of treatment. You can also give yourselves something to look forward to by planning together how you will celebrate the end of treatment, or a portion of treatment.

Planning for a future in the long-term is also important. All of us, whether we have been diagnosed with cancer or not, should have in place necessary paperwork such as healthcare agent, power of attorney, and a will. You can ask your loved one if he or she needs, or wants, assistance. Having essential paperwork under control will allow you to have peace of mind.

7. Accept a helping hand

It’s okay to have “helpers.” In fact, you may find that learning to let go and to say “YES!” will ease your anxiety and lift your spirits. People often want to chip in, but aren’t quite sure what type of assistance you need. It’s helpful to keep a list of all caregiving tasks, both small and large. That way, when someone asks “Is there anything I can do?” you are able to offer them specific choices.

One simple way to organize a helping network is to create a MyLifeLine Friends & Family Site for your loved one. This free service from the Cancer Support Community allows you and your loved one to connect with family members, friends, and others in your support network. When you create a Friends & Family site, you gain access to a tool called the Helping Calendar. You can use this tool to coordinate help for a variety of events, from rides to doctor’s appointments to meals, childcare, and more.

8. Be mindful of your health

In order to be strong for your loved one, you need to take care of yourself. It’s easy to lose sight of your own health when you’re focused on your loved one. But if your own health is in jeopardy, who will take care of your loved one? Be sure to tend to any physical ailments of your own that arise. This includes scheduling regular checkups and screenings. And, just like your mother told you, eat well and get enough sleep.

Visit our virtual Kitchen, where you can explore recipes and healthy cooking videos. These recipes were created to support the nutritional needs of people impacted by cancer, but anyone can enjoy their health benefits.

9. Consider exploring stress-management techniques

Even if you’ve never practiced mind-body exercises before, you may find that meditation, yoga, listening to music, or simply breathing deeply will relieve your stress. If this interests you, seek out guidance or instruction to help you become your own “expert” on entering into a peaceful, rejuvenated state.

Mind-body (or stress-reduction) interventions use a variety of techniques to help you relax mentally and physically. Examples include meditation, guided imagery, and healing therapies that tap your creative outlets such as art, music, or dance. For help with relaxing and unwinding, visit our virtual Mind Body Studio for yoga lessons, gentle exercises, and meditation videos.

10. Do what you can, admit what you can’t

No one can do everything. It’s okay to acknowledge your limits. Come to terms with feeling overwhelmed (it will happen) and resolve to be firm when deciding what you can and cannot handle on your own, because no one should have to face cancer alone.

What We Can Learn From Jimmy Buffett’s Battle With Merkel Cell Carcinoma

What We Can Learn From Jimmy Buffett’s Battle With Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Palm trees rise up toward a blue sky on a tropical beach

Some of Jimmy Buffett’s most popular songs evoke the sunny mood of tropical beach life. (Photo by Roberto Nickson for Unsplash.)

He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.


Jimmy Buffett fans across the world are mourning the loss of the iconic “Margaritaville” singer, who passed away September 1. He was 76. News media outlets reported that Buffett had been battling an extremely aggressive and advanced form of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC).

MCC is an uncommon but serious type of non-melanoma skin cancer. For most people, MCC looks like flesh-colored or bluish-red lumps. Skin changes normally show up on the face, head, or neck, but they can happen anywhere on the body.

Finding MCC can be difficult because it does not always look the same. It can often be mistaken for other skin issues. It is usually painless, so it can go undetected for a while.

Am I at risk for MCC?  

There are many things that can increase the risk of MCC. In most cases, a virus affecting special skin cells — called Merkel cell polyomavirus — is linked to Merkel cell carcinoma. Other risk factors include spending a lot of time in the sun, having other skin cancers, older age, and having a lighter skin color. That being said, anyone of any complexion can get skin cancer.


How Is Merkel Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed & Treated?

Some of Buffett’s most popular songs, like “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” celebrate sunny places. Here are some simple ways you can enjoy the sunshine and your time outdoors while staying protected:

  • Stay out of the sun when it is at its strongest and hottest (10 a.m.-4 p.m.)
  • Use hats, sunglasses, and other protective clothing to block UV rays.
  • Use a minimum of SPF 30 sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy. Make sure to reapply, especially when swimming or sweating.
  • Take note of skin changes; even small changes can be concerning.

Here’s What to Look for When Doing Skin Checks 

But I thought skin cancer wasn’t that bad?

A common misconception is that skin cancers aren’t dangerous. MCC, among other types of skin cancer, can spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), including the lymph nodes. As cancer spreads, it becomes much more difficult to treat, making it life-threatening. The key to survivorship is early detection and treatment.


Buffett, who battled MCC for 4 years, continued to perform after his diagnosis and throughout his treatment. The resilience of his experience sheds light on the importance of early detection and ignites hope for new advancements in treatment.

MCC is rare, but it should be taken seriously. Knowing what causes it, how to spot it, and how to protect your skin can make a big difference. Watch for skin changes and do not hesitate to see a doctor if any concerns arise. If you or someone you know has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis, we are here to provide support at any stage.


Watch this 13-minute guide to understand more about advanced non-melanoma skin cancer, including types, diagnosis, and treatment.

Erma’s Caregiver Story: The Extent of a Support System

Colorful umbrellas strung up in the sky

Stock photo by Ulises Baga for Unsplash

MyLifeLine provided Erma and her husband a way to share treatment updates with their personal support network, all in one place.


When Erma’s husband Shelby was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, saying they were both stunned would be an understatement. Shelby was an active and healthy individual who had regular physicals and checkups. They thought they were doing everything right when their lives were turned upside down.

At the beginning of Shelby’s diagnosis, Erma recalled that it felt very personal. “You start out in the beginning like, ‘Why me? Why me, Lord. Why did God pick on me?’ That has all changed now. We’ve worked through that. It’s not like life picked on you. Life just happened.”

It took Erma some time to get to the point of acceptance of what she and Shelby were enduring. She had to take on new roles and responsibilities after her husband’s cancer diagnosis and Erma was left in charge of their dog, house, vehicles, insurance, driving, making sure bills were paid and all of her husband’s appointments were booked while he focused on his cancer diagnosis.

In addition to all her other responsibilities, she also had to update friends and family about Shelby’s condition. Each of these new tasks that came with her husband’s diagnosis began to overwhelm Erma and she realized she needed help.

“I realized shortly, within the first few months of his chemo treatment, that I somehow had to shake the feeling that was still a hold of me because my husband was totally zoning out,” Erma reflected.

Erma began seeing a counselor through her husband’s cancer center. She worked through her struggles with Shelby’s diagnosis and her new responsibilities as a caregiver, and she came to terms with what she was facing.

During a wait for one of her husband’s many doctor appointments, Erma noticed a postcard sitting next to her. It was about MyLifeLine, CSC’s online support community for people impacted by cancer. Erma picked up the card, put it in her purse, and went online within the next couple days to give it a try. She was overwhelmed with updating friends and family of Shelby’s condition through email. Today she sees MyLifeLine as an important part of their cancer journey.

“I almost look at MyLifeLine as part of his treatment. Whatever happens to him, MyLifeLine gets updated,” Erma said. “I felt more connected. I felt the support. I felt the love from everyone we knew. It changed my whole outlook, truly.”

Erma has some advice for other caregivers. “You as an individual must have a support system. Secondly, you must learn how to use it. My support system was there from the beginning. I just didn’t think I needed it. People would ask me how I was doing and I would always say ‘I’m good, I’m fine, just a little tired,’ when in reality I was drowning.”

Once Erma started leaning on her support system and using it, she began to understand what she was up against. The support has been constant for Erma, and she said it has truly made a difference.