In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, I will focus on caregivers for those with cancer.  They are tireless advocates, giving their time and energy freely for the benefit of their loved ones.  As an Oncologist, I always feel happy when a patient comes for an appointment with supportive family and friends.  If you are such, you may wonder, “How can I support a friend or family member going through cancer treatment?”

A good friend or family member has much to offer a loved one going through cancer treatment. Here are a few suggestions:

Teenage Girl Visits Doctor's Office Suffering With Depression

  1. Be an active participant at appointments. Offering to accompany a friend or family member to appointments can be very helpful. It may help to bring a notebook along and take notes. It is important to feel free to ask questions. If confusing, one could ask the doctor to summarize their points on a piece of paper. During chemotherapy, a friend could sit with a cancer patient in the chemotherapy infusion suite to provide some company.  Most facilities are happy to accommodate this.
  2. Discussing treatments and options. An individual with cancer may prefer not to make important decisions immediately.  They may prefer to return home and discuss with family and friends first. Some make a decision at the appointment, but change their mind afterwards. Friends and family can help such discussions in the following ways:
    1. Encouraging focus on treatments based on strong supporting research rather than anecdotes.
    2. Encouraging participation in clinical trials, typically designed to improve on current standard treatment(s).
    3. Asking if it may help to seek a second opinion.  Click here to read my article about second opinion consultations.
    4. Providing support and encouragement when chemotherapy and other active cancer therapies are not likely to help and may harm. An example may be stage IV incurable cancer and a severely weakened physical state.
  3. Keeping track of appointments. A woman with newly diagnosed breast cancer may have to meet a Medical Oncologist, a Radiation Oncologist, Social Worker, and Physical Therapist.  She may also have to meet a Breast and Plastic Surgeon. Further, there may be appointments to schedule for chemotherapy infusion, blood testing, and possibly others. Most cancer centers have comprehensive calendars that are provided to help patients keep up with numerous appointments. A friend or family member could take ownership of the calendar and provide reminders.
  4. Providing a reminder for other things. It is important to stay in the best state of health during cancer treatment. Eating sensibly, exercising as able, and tapping into spiritual and social supports all help to this end. A new cancer patient may feel overwhelmed.  He/she may be comforted to know they can speak to professionals to get some help.  Most cancer centers have social workers on staff who can suggest available resources.

Do you have any other thoughts?  Please feel free to get in touch.  Perhaps you are caregiver who would like to share your story and that is great.  If you found this helpful, please share freely with your friends. Look at the bottom left and click on ‘Follow’ to subscribe to my blog.