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Tips for caring for a loved one with cancer

  • Educate yourself. Learn as much as possible about your loved one’s cancer type, treatment options and potential side effects. Ask your loved one’s doctor about patient education materials and supportive resources. The more you know about the disease and what to expect, the more confident you and your loved one will feel about treatment decisions.
  • Find the right cancer team. Find doctors that specialize in your loved one's form of cancer and who work as a team to provide individualized care. An integrated approach is also important to help your loved one manage side effects during treatment. Also, having your loved one’s doctors in the same location provides greater convenience and more streamlined care.
  • Stay organized. Keep a record of your loved one's medical history, test results and medications. Also, write down appointments, names of physicians and contact information, including the pharmacy number. It also helps to make a list of your daily responsibilities and prioritize what needs to be done.
  • Keep your loved one's doctors informed. Keep your loved one’s doctors informed about any new symptoms they exhibit, such as changes in sleep, mood, bowel habits, or appetite. These side effects can interrupt their treatment and hinder their quality of life. Don't wait for the next appointment to contact your loved one's doctors about an important issue.
  • Follow your loved one's lead. Don't tell your loved one what to think, feel or how to act. Since you don’t know what your loved one is going through right now, let them take the lead. Instead of saying things like "I know how you feel," try saying "I love you and we'll get through this together."
  • Listen to your loved one. Sometimes just being there to listen, without judgment, is the best thing you can do. You don't always have to have all the answers or fix things, just lend a sympathetic ear. Your loved one may not want to talk at all, and would rather sit quietly. It's okay to sit in silence.
  • Respect your loved one's independence. Your loved one probably wants to feel as independent and in control as possible right now. Allow your loved one to decide what they can and will do. Encourage them to be as self-sufficient as they want to be. Provide choices whenever possible.
  • Accept your loved one's bad days. At times, your loved one may be depressed, angry or just having a bad day. It's unrealistic to expect your loved one to "stay positive" all the time. And, putting these demands on them will only cause more frustration, guilt and stress. Accept the bad days, give your loved one space if they need it, and try not to take things personally.
  • Communicate with your loved one. Cancer can put a strain on your relationship with your loved one. It's important to maintain open communication, even if it brings up strong emotions. Don't assume your loved one can't handle an honest discussion. Try to understand your loved one's point of view and communicate yours.
  • Take a break from cancer. It doesn't always have to be about cancer. You and your loved one may need a break from cancer every once in a while. Try not to bring up the subject unless your loved one wants to talk about it. Instead, focus on other things, like spending time together doing something fun.
  • Remind your loved one that you care. Your loved one may need extra reassurance that they are still needed and loved. Find gifts that reflect who they are apart from cancer (e.g., books, art, music, tickets to an event). Let your loved one know that you still see them as a person, not as a cancer patient.
  • Find other sources of support for your loved one. While you may be a wonderful emotional support for your loved one, sometimes it helps to have another, outside, source where they can express their feelings. Ask your loved one if they would like to join a support group or speak to a professional counselor or spiritual advisor.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.

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