ASK PETER: All You Would Like to Know About Senior Care, Dementia, and Alzheimer's Care

Six tips for family caregivers of a loved one with breast cancer.

By Peter DiMaria

One of the readers of my column “Ask Peter”, —published weekly in the Enfield Press—sent me this question: “My mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I decided to care for her at home, at least for the time being. What advice can you give me?”

Here’s my answer:

Home Helpers will help family caregivers caring for a loved one with cancerAccording to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, after skin cancers.

About 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

Breast cancer occurs when breast cells start growing out of control. These cells form a tumor that can often be felt as a lump or seen on an x-ray. The tumor is malignant if the cells can invade surrounding tissues or spread to other organs of the body. Breast cancer occurs almost only in women, but some men develop it, too.

The incidence rates for breast cancer increased for more than 20 years but fortunately began to decrease in 2000. It dropped by about 7% from 2002 to 2003. However, the American Cancer Society's estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2016 still are:

  • About 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.

  • About 61,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).

  • About 40,450 women will die from breast cancer.

The good news is that there is treatment and chances of survival are high. The American Society of Clinical Oncology statistics shows that the average 5-year survival rate for people with breast cancer is 89%. The 10-year rate is 83%, and the 15-year rate is 78%.

Per the National Cancer Institute, many cancer patients prefer to receive in-home care during treatment.

Hospital stays are shorter than they used to be, and there are now more treatments that don't need an overnight hospital stay or can be given outside of the hospital. As people with cancer live longer, many patients want to be cared for at home as much as possible. This care is often given by family caregivers, but hiring an in-home care agency like Home Helpers is also an option.

Family caregivers, like yourself, have the very important job of watching for changes in the patient's medical condition while giving long-term care at home. You can and should help plan treatment, make decisions, and carry out plans all through the different parts of treatment.

Here are some tips to help you to deal with caring for your mom (they also apply to patients with other types of cancer):

  • You should work with the health care team, as you have an important role in improving your mom’s health and quality of life. Today, family caregivers do many things that used to be done in the hospital or doctor's office by health care providers. Caregiving for cancer patients includes everyday tasks such as helping the patient with medicines, doctor visits, meals, schedules, and health insurance matters. It also includes giving emotional and spiritual support, such as helping her deal with feelings and making hard decisions.

  • Think of your mom, not the disease. While her cancer diagnosis will be an important part of devising your care for her, it should not be the only thing that you think about when you are caring for her. Remember that you are still caring for your mom, not just someone with breast cancer and that you should give her the same nurturing, supportive, personalized care that you would give her before the diagnosis;

  • Consider hiring an in-home care agency sometimes. In-home care agencies like Home Helpers offer care from a few hours a day to 24/7. You don’t have to commit to long-term care for your mom. You can get help for a few hours, sometimes. With a dedicated caregiver paying attention to the care and chores of the house, you will be able to spend time with your mom while “being the daughter” again;

  • Let your mom guide the care. Regardless of how you feel about your mom’s diagnosis or the treatment that she has chosen, it is important that you remember that she is the one who is going through this disease. It is her thoughts and opinions that matter, and you should form your care routine based on them. This includes not forcing her to talk about her condition when she doesn’t want to and empowering her to evaluate her options when it is right for her to make changes.

  • Encourage compliance. Complying with guidelines set forth by their doctor is one of the most important things that your mom can do to make the most of these treatment and management efforts. Make sure that you understand these guidelines and any medications that she is supposed to take so that you can offer her reliable reminders. This will keep her on track and get the maximum benefit from the treatments.

  • Know and respect your own limits. Sometimes the family caregiver gets overwhelmed and stressed. It is often hard to juggle between caring for a cancer patient, home chores, and the caregiver’s own life activities. As the disease progresses, the burden on family caregivers increases and you should consider some time to care for yourself, too. The quality of the care you give to your mom will also be compromised if your own well-being is not being observed. Caregiver stress can make you more susceptible to illnesses. Remember, you won’t be able to give her the care she needs if you are not 100% there.

So, remember: when feeling overwhelmed, it is OK to ask for help.


Click here to check Home Helpers Home Care services.

Click here to book a free in-home consultation.

Call now and speak with Peter DiMaria:

(860) 698-2244 (CT)

(413 224-1045 (MA)