Caring for someone undergoing cancer treatment

Do you have a relative, spouse or friend who has been diagnosed with cancer?  Are you serving in the role of “Caregiver?”  What do you say to them? Coming up with the words can be easier said than done.  Yet they need your support.  I don’t think I would have survived my cancer without the support of my friends and loved ones.

It is a proven fact that people do better emotionally, spiritually and even physically when going cancer treatment if they have strong support from family and friends.

I hope the following suggestions for being a support person and/or caregiver will help you and help the cancer patient as well.

It is always difficult when a person we love has a life-threatening illness such as cancer. You have to listen and not be judgmental and without “giving unsolicited advice.” It’s easy to say “you are going to be OK” when we feel the pain of our loved one. It is better just to sit with someone who than to make promises that may not be real.

Cancer treatment is often a long treatment process and recovery.  Visit and call as often as you can.  Cancer patients often feel alone and that “people don’t call any more” after the initial crisis of diagnosis. Checking in on a regular basis over the long haul is extremely helpful.

Only give advice when you are asked. You might volunteer to research the treatment or clinical trials. That could be helpful, as the information is often overwhelming. What is not helpful is saying “You should do this…”

Educate yourself about cancer

If you are not the primary caregiver, remember the caregiver. This is usually the spouse, partner, parent or adult child of the person with cancer who takes on necessary tasks such as driving to treatment, arranging medical appointments, and providing emotional support. The primary caregiver is often the one who takes on the role previously handled by the person with cancer, such as doing additional household chores and everyday jobs and household tasks.

Be precise about the help you can offer. Don’t say, “call me if you need something”  This can put your loved one in an uncomfortable position. It is better to say “May I walk your dog every morning?” or “Let me take you to radiation on Tuesdays.”

Keep things as normal as possible. Frequently we want to make life easier for someone dealing recovering from cancer treatment by “doing things” for them. It is a way of feeling useful at a time when we feel helpless but it’s just as important to be sensitive to that person’s wish to continue working (or not), or cooking for themselves.. For a person with cancer, having the ability to do normal “pre-cancer” tasks can lessen the sense that cancer is taking over one’s life.

Be responsive to your loved one’s needs when treatment is over. Often this is the time that people with cancer realize the enormity of what they have been through (prior to this, they are deeply involved and distracted by the “work” of getting to treatment, tests, etc.)

At this time your loved one may not need rides to treatment, but will still need your being there.

Support your loved one’s treatment decisions. This includes end-of-life choices when treatment is not successful. While you may be in a position to share decision-making, ultimately it is your loved one’s body and spirit that bear the impact of the cancer. If your loved one chooses to stop treatment, this is a time when emotional support is especially crucial. Listening, once again, can be the greatest gift you have to give.

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