Caring for a family member with cancer
When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is affected. Immediately after a cancer diagnosis, family members, spouses, and close friends mobilize and figure out how to be caregivers and provide emotional support to their loved one. It can be a trying time for everyone involved. You’ll cycle through many emotions and we want to assure you – this is a completely normal response.
While it may feel overwhelming at times, you are now your loved one’s caregiver, advocate, and support system. It’s important to look out for your own mental health and your own feelings while still acting as a caregiver, so our long term care teams put together this guide to help you through some of the stages of caring for a family member with cancer.
Face the cancer head-on
A cancer diagnosis means you’ll be faced with new terminology, new medical processes, and essentially an entirely new world. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the language and the latest information, and sites like the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society are excellent places to start.
A big part of facing the problem is ensuring you and your loved one feel comfortable with their medical team. Unfortunately, many people feel they can’t advocate for themselves when dealing with their doctors, but it’s important to speak up if you don’t feel comfortable. Your loved one deserves a doctor and a medical team they feel comfortable with at all times.
Facing the problem also includes the financial aspect, which can add a lot of stress to the situation. If you need financial assistance for treatment, discuss it with your loved one’s insurance provider and speak with organizations like CancerCare to see if they can provide support.
Consider viable cancer treatment options
Once your loved one’s doctor has decided on a treatment plan, we recommend doing your research and ensuring you’re comfortable with what has been proposed. Never hesitate to get a second opinion or ask other specialists what they think, and if you are uncomfortable with or have questions about any part of the treatment process, please speak up.
Once their treatment plan has been decided upon, you can support your loved one by helping them prepare for doctor’s appointments, helping them manage their medications, and helping them understand what they can expect during all stages of their treatment. Simply being by your loved one’s side will give them comfort through this difficult time.
Prepare for common conflicts
A cancer diagnosis can change everything. Whether it’s a parent, a sibling, a child or a spouse, your relationship with your loved one may change and it may feel strained at times. Remind yourself that they are going through an incredibly difficult time, and reassure them that you’re there to support and care for them – no matter what.
If you find you and your loved one disagreeing over the best treatment option, you might find it helpful to have your loved one talk with a nurse instead. Sometimes people with cancer are reluctant to go through chemotherapy and resist it even when their doctor recommends it, but speaking with other medical professionals may give them some perspective and reassurance.
There’s no official guide for how to care for a family member with cancer, so figuring out your role in their life is something you’ll learn as you go. Honest communication is essential between you and your loved one, and so is empathy. It’s an incredibly difficult time for them and it’s important to remain compassionate throughout every stage.