The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the personal and professional lives of individuals around the world. Stress is an inevitable part of this shift. This is especially true for cancer caregivers, a population the National Cancer Institute calculated at 2.8 million – and growing – in 2016. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 50% of cancer caregivers reported high emotional stress related to caregiving and 43% admitted to wanting help managing emotional and physical stress and making end-of-life decisions.1
An unexpected cancer diagnosis disrupts the lives of patients as well as their caregivers. Cancer caregivers regularly provide support including, but not limited to, emotional support (98%), attending medical appointments (96%), help with decision-making (82%), coordinating medical care (79%), providing transportation (80%) and help managing finances (74%) while simultaneously dealing with their own emotions and stress.2
Despite their essential role in a patient’s cancer journey, cancer caregivers are often excluded from the patient-centric resources and support services they encounter.
Oncology nurses and nurse navigators can play a pivotal liaison role between cancer caregiver and resources. Nurses usually provide episodic support during the patient’s visit; however, now more than ever, it is imperative that oncology nurse and nurse navigators are aware of sustainable cancer caregivers resources and support services. Empowered with a framework for assessing cancer caregivers for emotional and physical stress, Nurses can make a difference. The PEAR Assessment Tool
is one simplistic way healthcare professionals can begin this work:
- Pause: Provide time and space to slow down on task focus activities
- Engage: While dedicating your full attention to the cancer caregiver, assure the caregiver that he or she is an essential part of the team and their well- being is important.
- Assess: Ask direct, open-ended questions about her or his feelings, struggles and support system.
- Refer: During every encounter, discuss, refer and encourage use of relevant support resources available to the provide cancer caregiver at that time.
Cancer caregivers are essential members of the health care team and can greatly impact the trajectory of a patients cancer journey, it is essential that they are provided the tools and services necessary to maintain their mental and physical health.
1. National Cancer Institute (2019) Informal Caregivers in Cancer: Roles, Burden, and Support (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/family-friends/family-caregivers-hp-pdq#_225,
Accessed November 3, 20202.
2. Cancer Support Services (2020). Caregivers: Becoming A Caregiver.
Retrieved from https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/caregivers
. Accessed November 3, 2020
3. National Cancer Institute (2016). Many Cancer Caregivers Report Feeling Unprepared for Caregiving Challenges
. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2016/caregivers-needs-challenges
. Accessed July 4, 2020