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Q. My grandmother has cancer. I'm worried about her, but even more so, I'm worried about my mom. She tries hard to be strong for everyone, but she is just so run down herself. She seems uncomfortable letting us be there for her. Any advice?


Many caregivers find it difficult to accept help. Caregivers often feel a sense of responsibility to take care of things on their own in order for them to feel that they’re doing “enough.” However, this can become quite burdensome, and often leaves the caregiver feeling run down, just as you mentioned your mom is. This fatigue may also be a sign of distress and can indicate a need for more support.

Letting your mom know that you are concerned about her may initiate a conversation about the importance of self-care. It is very true that in order to be a good caregiver, it’s important to take care of oneself – this often starts with the most basic of needs – healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits. The American Cancer Society’s Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire may identify specific areas where your mom can use more support. This might give you a better idea of how to help her, and how she can help herself.

Framing the conversation about self-care in a way that allows your mom to see how taking these measures for herself will also benefit her mother may make it easier for her to accept. CancerCare has a fact sheet entitled “Caring Advice for Caregivers: How Can You Help Yourself?” that may also give some helpful tips to make all of this more manageable.

Similarly, you may be able to assist by offering to help with specific tasks, like taking your grandmother to treatment or grocery shopping. This approach is generally more helpful than asking how you can help, as it gives your mom one less thing to think about or to delegate. This way, you are giving your mom a moment of respite without sacrificing your grandmother’s needs.

And talking with other caregivers may give you and your mom an additional layer of emotional support. Connecting with others in a similar situation may offer other ideas and suggestions on how to better manage these responsibilities. We also offer telephone and online support groups for caregivers and can help you find support groups in your area.

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