What Caregivers Can Do to Help

When someone we care about is diagnosed with cancer, we all want to help. But sometimes it's difficult to know what to do and how best to meet the needs of that person. Here are some suggestions:

Listen

Encourage and allow the patients to discuss their feelings. Consciously listen without judging. Listen with your heart and don't worry about what to say. Offering your shoulder to cry on is a great source of comfort. Let the patients express their feelings even if it is uncomfortable for you to hear. Sometimes what they need most is to have someone listen. Let them know that they are not alone.

When asking about help, be specific. Ask the patients what they like doing least during treatment, for instance, and offer to do that particular task or delegate it to someone else who can support you.

Organize

Keep track of appointments, medications, bills, and test reports. The patients will be relieved that you did.

Discuss questions that the patients may have prior to any medical appointments.

Accompany them to doctor appointments and take notes. Ask questions on their behalf if necessary. Sometimes they may be too emotionally upset to focus on medical information.

Be an advocate in all areas. Someone fighting cancer is often not in shape to fight bureaucracies or any one else.

Be a gatherer of information. Learn about the patients' particular types of cancer and treatment options so that you can engage in informed conversations.

Know contact info for their medical providers. Keep these numbers with you and at home. Know what medications and dosages the patients are taking. Keep this list with you at all times.

Support

Help them find support. No matter how much we can empathize, talking to someone who has gone through it or faced the same challenges can be invaluable. One-on-one conversations or support groups can be very helpful to cancer patients. SHARE provides these.

Being together can also provide very significant support. Physical expressions such as hand holding, hugging and touching can be very comforting.

Humor and laughter are good medicine and feel 'normal,' but be sensitive to the times that the patient needs to express grief.

Respect their need to be alone. Don't take it personally; they may need time alone to reflect.

At difficult times, be a buffer between well meaning friends and family and the patient.

Prepare for the patients' hospital stay by going to the library or purchasing special reading material or CD's or any special items to make the patients feel more comfortable.

Offer

Don't wait to be asked for help. Offer help first and be specific. Do what you can.

  • Cook or clean
  • Drive to a doctor's appointment
  • Bring in a meal
  • Do laundry
  • Send a thoughtful and loving note
  • Pick up medications
  • Prepare and freeze snacks
  • Do grocery shopping or errands
  • Babysit or help children with homework
  • Walk dog
  • Help the patient get the best treatment
    • Help secure a second opinion
    • Research treatment options

Remember the four L's: listening, learning, loving and laughing!