Defining Your Role as a Caregiver for a Breast Cancer Patient

When someone you care about is diagnosed with breast cancer, your first response will likely be fear. Next, you will probably ask, “What can I do?” When you offer help of any, you become a caregiver. Caregivers can provide a wealth of support to breast cancer patients physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Physical Support

Physical support will most likely be needed once treatment begins. This may just mean helping with transportation to and from treatment, helping keep track of appointments or assistance up and down stairs. Physical support may also be needed in the form of errands or tasks around the house. For example, if they are feeling too ill to perform chores around the house, such as laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, etc., you may decide to help out by doing these things for them for a while.1 You and the patient can decide what types of physical support are needed, as individual patients will have various levels of comfort with this kind of support.

Spiritual Support

Many breast cancer patients will find comfort and strength in their spiritual beliefs and teachings. Cancer and the potential of death have a way of turning people toward faith or even back to the faith that they had in their youth. Regardless of how they arrive at their faith, they may want to share their feelings about it after being diagnosed and throughout treatment. They may need someone to talk to that will listen and even encourage their efforts to find spiritual wisdom and understanding. A spiritual caregiver may want someone to read and study spiritual lessons with her or just help support her in her faith.

Emotional Support

A diagnosis of breast cancer will bring about a variety of emotions. Often denial and disbelief are first, but can change rapidly to anger, fear, determination and courage to fight the cancer. No one reacts the exact same way to the diagnosis, so you may not be able to prepare for the reaction. More than likely, they will have a rollercoaster of emotions that will be quite variable. There may be times that they just want to talk about the diagnosis. If so, you may just want to listen to what they have to say. There may be times that they just want to yell or vent some of the anger and frustration that has been building inside. There may be times that they just need to cry, and you can be there for them to cry on. There may be just be times that they want to laugh, and helping them laugh as much as possible will do more good than you think.

Caring for the Caregiver

As a caregiver, you have a great responsibility to the person you are helping. You must show how much you care and be willing to do whatever the person needs you to do without minimizing the seriousness of their illness. A caregiver should realize that they must also take care of themselves. Taking care of a person with an illness can be physically and emotionally draining. If you are the spouse or partner, you need to be particularly aware of the potential impact that being the sole caregiver can have on your ability to work, to take on the additional financial burden, and maintain a healthy attitude for the person you are caring for.2

There are many ways for people to be caregivers for their friends and family members with breast cancer. As a caregiver, you may find that you need a little help yourself. Do not be afraid to ask for help when needed and take it when offered, as you will be benefitting the patient you are trying to help the most by doing so.


1 Bower, Julienne E; Patricial A Ganz; Katherine A Desmond; Julia H Rowland; Beth E Meyerowitz; and Thomas R Belin. (14 February 2000) Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors: Occurrence, Correlates, and Impact on Quality of Life. V 18:4, 743.

2 Grunfeld, Eva; Doug Coyle, Timothy Whelan, Jennifer Clinch, Leonard Reyno, Craig c. Earle, Andrew Willan, Raymond Viola, Marjorie Coristine, Teresa Janz, and Robert Glossop. (8 June 2004) Family caregiver burden: results of a  longitudinal study of breast cancer patients and their principle caregivers. Canadian Medical Association Journal, v 170:12, 1795-1801.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.