Caring for a Loved One with Cancer

You are not alone as a cancer caregiver

comforting cancer caregiverCaring for a cancer patient comes with a lot of responsibilities, some you may not be prepared for. Remember that being a caregiver is a team effort between family members, friends, volunteers, and the health care team. Here at Henry Ford Cancer, we have resources to help you tackle the biggest challenges caregivers experience in an educated way. These include communicating with your loved one’s medical team, dealing with legal and financial issues and handling medical issues you may encounter.

Communicate effectively with your loved one's care team

It's good for a caregiver to accompany their loved one to doctor's appointments and treatments. Because of age, emotions about the cancer diagnosis, or side effects from treatment, a patient may need assistance communicating with the care team. Here are a few tips for being efficient as a caregiver at your loved one's appointments:

  • Keep track of appointments and arrive early
  • Write down questions for the care team ahead of time
  • Take notes or voice record things your care team tells you at an appointment for future reference
  • Keep a list and schedule of your loved one's medications for easy reference at an appointment
  • Keep track of side effects that are occurring or worsening, and talk about these with the care team at the next visit

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Caring for the Cancer Caregiver

Being a cancer caregiver is a demanding and rewarding role. Make sure you are taking care of yourself to avoid caregiver burnout.

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Caring for your loved one with cancer

People with cancer are spending more time at home during treatment than ever before. That means caregivers are now responsible for managing side effects that were previously be taken care of by trained healthcare professionals.

The American Cancer Society has created an educational video series especially to help caregivers as they assist with the everyday needs of cancer patients and provide self-care techniques to improve their quality of life. Videos include:

  • Surgical drain care
  • Lifting
  • Pain management
  • Medication management
  • Managing side effects — constipation
  • Managing side effects — diarrhea
  • Managing side effects — mouth problems
  • Managing side effects — nausea and vomiting
  • Signs of infection

You can also visit the National Cancer institute website for more resources about helping to manage cancer treatment side effects as a caregiver.

Caring for yourself

Being a caregiver can be absorbing and stressful, making it easy to ignore your own personal needs to focus on the person with cancer. However, taking care of your physical and spiritual needs can make you a better caregiver. Beware of caregiver burnout, and remember to do the following:

  • Take care of your own health needs - Stay up-to-date with your medical needs including taking your medications, eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising
  • Find "me" time - Take 15-30 minutes per day and do an activity or hobby you find relaxing.
  • Don't neglect your friends and family - You may have to reduce the time you spend on personal activities, but make sure you are finding a way to stay in touch with those close to you.
  • Ask for help - As a caregiver you are not alone- ask others for assistance with things they can do such as cooking meals or running errands. Joining a support group is a great way to get emotional support from others in your same position.

One way to stay in touch with concerned people and rally the help of friends and family is through a Caring Bridge page. It is a centralized, private webpage where you or your loved one can post health updates and get support. Family and friends can leave messages offering words of encouragement and stories, memories, photos and videos. These uplifting messages of love and hope can give strength to the patient and caregiver. Caring Bridge is also available as an app for your phone or tablet, enabling you to update from anywhere. 

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Stay organized

Caregivers have a lot of information they need to keep track of. It's helpful to keep all information in a single notebook or folder. Another option is using a phone or tablet app to keep track of all this information.

  • Use Henry Ford MyChart to stay in touch with the care team, view test results, schedule and view appointments, keep track of medications, pay bills, and view your medical record. Mychart is available on your computer or as an app on your phone or tablet. If you have legal guardianship or power of attorney for your loved one with cancer, they can request for you to have your own login for their MyChart to view medical and billing information. This can be requested from the preferences tab when they are logged in to their MyChart account.
  • The Henry Ford Rx application (on the App Store and Google Play) allows you to manage prescriptions, including request for prescription refills, refill by scanning your label, track refill status, find nearby stores to place a refill request and setup dosage reminders for helping with medication adherence. Bookmarking of stores, getting driving directions, and managing doctor appointments are some of the additional features available. If you need help registering or using the app, email
  • The app is a cancer-specific app for researching information on cancer, coming up with questions for your loved one's care team, recording notes or voice recordings from appointments, tracking side effects, and storing medication lists with pictures of the medication labels. Most people take their phones with them everywhere these days, so a folder or notebook becomes one less thing to remember to bring with you.

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Caregiver Assistance Resources and Education Program

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