Care Givers Information
Information and Support for Caregivers
Some families find it difficult to talk about cancer or share their feelings. It may seem best to pretend that everything is fine and carry on as normal. Perhaps you don’t want to worry the person with cancer, or you feel you are letting them down if you admit to being afraid. Unfortunately, denying strong emotions like this can make it even harder to talk and lead to the patient feeling very isolated.
Partners, relatives, and friends can help by listening carefully to what and how much the person with cancer wants to say. Don’t rush into talking about the illness. Often it is enough just to listen and let the person with cancer talk when he or she is ready.
One of the most common problems in trying to help a person with cancer is that friends and relatives simply don’t know where to start. They want to help, but don’t know what to do first. Here’s a logical plan that you can follow, one that will help you decide where your help is most useful.
Make your offer
You must first find out whether or not your help is wanted. If it is, make your offer. Your initial offer should be specific (not just “let me know if there’s anything I can do”), and you should say clearly that you’ll check back to see if there are things you can help with. Do not be upset if the patient does not seem to want your support, and don’t take it personally. After you have made your initial offer, do not wait to be called, but check back with a few preliminary suggestions.
If you are to be useful to your friend, you will need some information about what the medical situation is, but only enough to make sensible plans. You do not need to — and should not — become a world expert on cancer. Some people make suggestions to the patient about things they should do, or treatments they should try. This well-meaning advice can often pressure the patient and cause stress, so it’s best to offer advice only if the person asks for it.
Assess the needs
This means assessing the needs of the person who is ill, and of the rest of the family: Are there children who need to be taken to and from school? Is the partner medically fit, or are there things they need? Is the home suitable for nursing someone with the person’s medical condition, or are there things that need to be done there? Any list will be long and almost certainly incomplete, but it is a start. Check your list by going through a day in the life of your friend and thinking what he or she will need at each stage.
Decide what you can and want to do
What are you good at? Can you cook for your friend? Delivering precooked frozen meals may be welcomed. Can you prepare meals for other family members? Could you take the children out for the day to give the couple some time together? If you aren’t good at any of these things, would you be prepared to pay for, say, a cleaner for a half-day a week to help out? Could you get relevant booklets for your friend? Can you find videos that he or she will like? Will there be flowers at home when the person gets out of hospital?
Don’t give huge gifts that overwhelm and embarrass. Most large gifts spring from a sense of guilt on the part of the donor, and create guilt in the recipient. Similarly, your offers of help need to be modest and suited to the patient and family.
Time is a present you can always give so try and spend regular time with your friend. It’s better to try to spend ten or fifteen minutes once a day or every two days, if you can, rather than two hours once a month. Be reliable and be there for your friend.
Being with your friend at the clinic
People with cancer are often encouraged to take someone with them when they see the doctor for the first time or for follow up visits. If your friend wants you to be there you could offer to help them prepare for the appointment. During the appointment don’t try to speak on behalf of your friend, unless he or she asks you to. Listen very carefully to the information and answers the doctor gives. It can also be helpful to take notes. Afterward you can help by reminding them of the information and the answers the doctor gave, as you are likely to remember things they have forgotten.
It may help you a bit to try and understand something of what your friend is facing, and to see the fears that he or she may be experiencing. There are many different aspects of illness that induce fear, and when the diagnosis is cancer, those fears may be more numerous and may loom larger.
It’s very frightening when your friend has been told he or she has cancer. But remember that facts reduce fears. You can help your friend get the facts in perspective. By listening to what he or she is most concerned about and by learning as much as possible about the disease, you can be a vital part of his or her support system — and that is one of the most important things that one human being can do for another.