|"I think anytime anyone in your
family is faced with a difficult situation
have to remember you're a team and you have to work together.
There's going to be good days and bad days, but you just
have to always be there for that other person."
- - Kristin Armstrong
Tips for Families of Cancer Patients
A cancer diagnosis is devastating news for the survivor's
family, friends and loved ones. More often than not, these
are the individuals who become caregivers following a cancer
diagnosis and during treatment.
As a caregiver and member of the support team, your job is
not easy. Not only do you supervise or help with your loved
one's physical needs, you also may be responsible for paying
bills, dealing with insurance issues, and helping make medical
decisions. Never mind your own regular responsibilities like
family and work, and the roller coaster that hurtles you through
the emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis.
I know how important a support team is for a cancer patient.
I truly believe that I never would have recovered from cancer
without the love and encouragement from my support team. Like
the lead support rider, my mother was the backbone, always
present, taking charge of my needs, and allowing her infectious
optimism and energy to envelope me. Kristin, my girlfriend
at the time who has since become my wife and mother of our
three children, Luke, Grace and Isabelle, became the most
important member of my support team and has stood by me through
every step of my recovery as a cancer survivor. My friends
and colleagues were invaluable in their support and good cheer,
making each day a little sunnier and each milestone toward
recovery a little more meaningful.
Caregivers are the people who make their loved one's illness
their mission, and who work tirelessly to meet the difficult
challenges that cancer brings. The information on this page
is designed to help caregivers like you understand that you
are valued members of the healing process. As such, your fitness,
both physical and emotional, is necessary to keep the journey
Here are some tips that will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed
Understanding your loved one's illness and treatment
can lessen your fears and prepare you to make important
decisions. You can learn about the illness by researching
on-line or at your local library, asking health care
providers, contacting national organizations, or talking
to others who have been through a similar experience.
Assemble a caregiving team.
The care of a cancer survivor is an awesome responsibility
and no one should be expected to handle it alone. You
can manage the tasks that need to be done by enlisting
the help of family members, friends, and neighbors.
Divide chores into categories (i.e., personal care,
transportation, errands, help around the house, personal
affairs) and delegate them to others you trust.
Establish your caregiver role with health professionals.
It is important for the health care professionals to
know that you are the point person when it comes to
your loved one's care. Opening the lines of communication
will improve the flow of information and reduce confusion.
Develop a crisis management plan.
You never know when an emergency may arise, and the
worst time to try to recall important information is
when you are anxious and upset. Prepare for a crisis
by creating an emergency phone list of numbers, including
doctors, nurses, pharmacists, family members, neighbors
and friends. Also include information about your loved
one's insurance, social security, and living will/power
Tap into community resources.
Many communities have organizations that assist caregivers
with transportation, meals and nutrition, cleaning services,
childcare, respite care, and legal advice. Find out
what's available through your county health department,
local newspaper, library, church or synagogue. Take
advantage of the resources available to you.
Join a support group.
It is important to remember that you are never alone.
With over 25 million Americans working today as caregivers
(National Family Caregivers Association. Take Care!
Spring 1999.), chances are there are others in your
community who have walked in your shoes. Participating
in a support group is a way to meet others in a similar
situation and hear their experiences. Find out about
support groups near you by checking with your doctor,
hospital, county health department, national association
Take care of yourself.
When we are caring for others and under constant stress,
we often neglect ourselves. Poor eating habits, lack
of sleep, and heavy lifting often take their toll on
our own physical well-being. Take care to eat nutritiously,
drink plenty of fluids, exercise, sleep, and pace yourself.
If you are going to stay in this race for the long haul,
you need to stay healthy.
Mind your emotions.
You have taken on a very stressful job that can play
havoc with your emotions. In order to go the distance
emotionally, you need to set realistic goals for yourself;
stay connected to your regular life with hobbies, exercise
and friends; talk about your anger, frustrations and
resentments; allow yourself to grieve; seek comfort
in spirituality or the warmth of friends and family;
and maintain a sense of humor.
Watch out for depression.
Your job, at times, can seem overwhelming. Depression
is a common side effect of caregiving and it deserves
your attention. The National Mental Health Association
urges people to learn to recognize the signs of depression:
constant sadness, anxiety or emptiness; sleeping too
little or too much; reduced appetite and weight loss,
or increased appetite or weight gain; loss of interest
in activities; restlessness or irritability; fatigue;
or overwhelming feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness.
(National Mental Health Association). If you think you
are suffering from depression, seek professional help.
Give yourself the credit you deserve.
You are giving your loved one the greatest gift possible:
yourself. Whether your loved one and others acknowledge
this gift doesn't matter. You know the sacrifices you
are making and the energy you are using to do what is
right in your heart. You deserve to feel good about
your choice to help and should be congratulated on your
selflessness and generosity.