How I battle burnout while caring for my father with cancer

This past year, Wellthy member Courtney K., stepped into the demanding role of being a caregiver for her father, following her mother’s death. Reflecting on this challenging and rewarding period, she shared:


“Before last year, I really hadn’t thought about caregiving because I wasn’t caring for someone and neither were my friends. I assumed it would be challenging, but I never expected the last year to be as difficult as it has been. It’s rewarding and I’m happy to do it, but also heartbreaking and frustrating at times.”


We so often hear these conflicting emotions from caregivers whose lives have been changed forever when they begin caring for a loved one. In 2023, shortly after the death of her mother, Courtney's father was diagnosed with cancer. As an only child, Courtney found herself solely responsible for bearing the weight of her father’s caregiving duties. While she was more than willing to step in, Courtney was unprepared for the complexity of her father’s case and quickly realized that being a caregiver was much more complicated than she initially thought.

The challenges went beyond managing her father's cancer treatment – Courtney had to tackle his lack of legal documents and unplanned hospitalizations, all while dealing with the emotional strain of her mother's recent death. She was unsure how to navigate the complexities of Veteran benefits, wills, and other legal documents, in addition to end-of-life planning. 

Courtney discovered she had access to Wellthy as a benefit through her employer, and opened a Care Project, seeking guidance from professionals to help manage her father’s legal documents. After connecting with a Care Coordinator, she learned about the additional services that Wellthy provides, from identifying groups that provide meals, to connecting her with a local representative that could work with her on her father’s Veterans benefits. She took advantage of each of these services and appreciates having a Care Coordinator who moves at her pace and is ready to help each step of the process.


“[Each of these services is] one less thing on top of caregiving I have to think about, even though there's still a lot to do, this is an amazing resource. It’s amazing to have a Care Coordinator who’s moving at my pace and is there when I am ready to take the next step.”


Along with using Wellthy as a resource, Courtney found that applying her work ethic of staying organized, giving herself realistic deadlines, and buckling down to get the job done was effective in managing her father’s care. However, navigating the logistical aspects of caregiving was just the tip of the iceberg. Courtney struggled to balance her own mental well-being with providing compassionate care. As she spent more and more time with her father, they began to get into arguments and she started making an effort to take some time for herself. Yet, she wrestled between dealing with the guilt she felt from needing her own space, while wanting to spend as much time as possible with her father and be available for him. 


“When the caregiving got really hard, I had to learn how to take small breaks. After a full day of appointments, having spats with my dad, and just feeling really frustrated, I would go to the downstairs living room to have time alone. I started realizing how often I was upstairs with my dad, especially while he was going through chemo – I would stay over multiple nights in a row. Going downstairs or to a coffee shop closeby created enough physical and emotional distance that I could calm myself down.”


To find balance, Courtney learned the importance of giving herself grace and came to understand that these personal moments were necessary. Allowing time for herself has not diminished her quality of care for her father. In fact, maintaining a healthy balance between caregiving responsibilities and her personal life has proven to be vital for their relationship. She now makes it a point to take breaks, finding relaxation in activities like going to a coffee shop and reading, watching a show, or lighting a candle and listening to music. These moments of self-care not only give her the mental clarity to push forward and prioritize tasks, but are essential in helping her sustain the strength and patience needed to be an effective and compassionate caregiver. 

As challenging as it has been to take on the role of caregiver, Courtney recognizes the value of having a support system of family and friends to rely on. She is extremely grateful to have her aunt and cousins, who often act as a sounding board when the emotional strain of her role as caregiver becomes overwhelming. Although she sometimes still feels alone, even with all the support she’s had, she does not feel as alone as she thought she would be. 

Courtney’s story is a testament to the often unexpected nature of caregiving and highlights the profound impact it can have on both the caregiver and the recipient of care. Her journey illustrates how caregiving transforms lives, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing mental health amidst its challenges. Furthermore, her willingness to seek support and build a strong network, through Wellthy and her friends and family, has empowered her to continue caring for her father with renewed energy and unwavering love and dedication.