How can I help a family member with cancer?

The kind of care a cancer patient needs depends largely on the stage of cancer he has. According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer’s progress can be divided into five stages. Stage 0 cancer means abnormal cells are present but have not spread to nearby tissue. Stage I, stage II and stage III means cancer is present and may have spread into nearby tissues. Stage IV cancer has metastasized, or spread to distant parts of body. This article will focus on caring for cancer patients with stage IV cancer who may not expect to make a recovery.

There are various types of cancer caregiver support you can offer as a family member. You can help support your cancer patient emotionally and physically as they cope with pain and discomfort and as they make end-of-life plans.

Helping a cancer patient emotionally and spiritually

As a family member, you may be a great source of comfort to your husband, mother, brother, or daughter who is a cancer patient. According to the National Cancer Institute, you can keep the cancer patient company and listen to her talk about memories from her life. You can also listen as she expresses fear and concern about dying. You can talk, watch movies, read, or just spend time with her.

If the cancer patient is spiritual, you can pray with him and arrange visits from spiritual leaders and church members. You can make sure he has meaningful objects, such as spiritual symbols or books, close at hand.

Helping a cancer patient stay comfortable

According to the American Cancer Society, physical symptoms in the last 2 to 3 months of life may include fatigue, pain, decreased appetite, and problems breathing. Cancer patients with stage IV cancer may be offered palliative care. Palliative care is also called comfort care, supportive care, or symptom management according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the goal is not to cure the cancer. Rather, palliative care seeks to improve the quality of life of the cancer patient and treat symptoms and side effects.

As a caregiver of a cancer patient, you can assist with palliative care. According to NCI, you can ask if the cancer patient is comfortable or experiencing any pain. If she is experiencing pain, you can contact the doctor or nurse and report that prescribed dose of pain medicine appears to be ineffective. You also can monitor symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, nausea and vomiting in the cancer patient and report these to the doctor or nurse as well. Contact a nurse or doctor if the cancer patient is unable to urinate or empty his bowels, is having trouble breathing, or shows discomfort by grimacing or moaning.

Helping a cancer patient with end-of-life plans

If you’re a caregiver to a cancer patient, you may encourage her to make a make-end of life plans in writing, if she has not done this already. According to the California State Bar, a will is a legal document giving instructions to be carried out after your death. Things a cancer patient might want to include in a will and end-of-life plans are:

  • Directions for burial or cremation
  • Beneficiaries of her estate
  • Specific directions on distributing certain assets, such as jewelry
  • Guardianship for minor children
  • Care plans for pets
  • An executor of the will to collect and manage her assets, pay debts, and distribute assets to beneficiaries

As a caregiver, you can reassure the cancer patient that you will honor advance directives, such as wills, recommends the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Cancer caregiver support

If you’ve be coping with a loved-one’s cancer diagnosis for a long time, you may feel that you need cancer caregiver support. According the NCI, a cancer patient’s health affects their loved ones more than the loved ones realize. Caregiving for a cancer patient can result in feelings of fatigue, stress, depression and anxiety. Cancer patient caregivers can take a step back and ask for support from friends and family, which may relieve some of the burden of caring for someone who is sick or dying. Learn more about managing caregiver stress here.

This article is only for general information and is not tax or legal advice.  Consult your tax or legal advisor for guidance.