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1. What can I do when I find out a loved one has cancer?

It is normal to grieve after hearing the news of a loved one being diagnosed with cancer. However, it is important to walk them through each step and try to be a support system for them to lean on. Learning and educating yourself with the process before, during, and after treatment will help you be at ease throughout the process.

2. Are there places I can go to receive support during their cancer?

Any treatment facility has social workers, nurse navigators, and family service support for the patients, friends, and families. Take advantage of those resources that can provide you with educational information and emotional support during this time.

3. What types of responsibilities will I take on during the recovery process?

You may experience financial, emotional, and physical responsibilities while your loved one goes through treatment and begins recovery.

4. How can I help my loved one with cancer?

Each person is different and their cancer journey is personal.  It is important to process the changes as they arise and be respectful of your loved ones feelings and emotions.  Ask permission before giving advice or asking questions, remember to be flexible and open.

Laughter is the best medicine they say, share lighthearted stories and jokes whenever possible.

Phone calls and emails are important, checking in with a loved one means you are thinking of them and it is always appreciated.

Offer to help with errands and chores, many people decline this type of help, and that is ok, but if you are able to make a meal, clean, or drive, offering is always a nice gesture; just remember to follow through.  Other practical ways to help someone are: shopping for them, baby-sitting, organizing for them, and walking with them.

Treat your loved ones the same as you did before, having a consistent friendship or relationship that doesn’t change creates a strong foundation and is something that a friend or loved one with cancer will appreciate.

5. Can I give my loved one a gift?

Giving a gift is a wonderful way to let someone with cancer know that you are thinking of them and want to make them smile.  There are many thoughtful gift ideas that will help your loved one be more comfortable during treatment and keep them active in the hospital if their stay is prolonged.

Books, movies, magazines, and itunes gift cards for loading books/movies onto an ipod or kindle

Relaxing CDs or itunes gift cards to use to purchase music

Pictures of friends and family

Puzzle books

Warm Pajamas or robes

Lotions and ointments specifically made for during cancer treatment

Socks, gloves, warm hats, if they are going through chemotherapy

Accessories like earrings, bracelets, scarves, hats, and makeup

6. I am long distance from my loved one, what should I do?

Having a loved one who lives out of state or long distance to you can be especially hard.  The best thing you can do is to stay in touch, distance between you doesn’t mean you have to be distant.  Ask before you visit, some patients may want to postpone visits for one reason or another, but you shouldn’t let this upset you, be understanding and plan your visit for when you are both ready.  Talk to your loved one’s primary caregiver and see what is needed and how you can help, you may be able to arrange certain things even though you are far away.  Thoughtful gestures go a long way, providing a meal from a restaurant that delivers near your loved one, sending cards or gifts, and writing thoughtful emails are all ways to show you care.

7. I have never been a caregiver before, where do I start?

Now that your loved one has cancer your role may be changing.  You may have been an integral part of this person’s life before, but maybe now what you will do for this person is different than before.  You may not have experience in taking care of someone, even though you may be new to it, you will learn what to do and how to help in the right way as time goes on.

There are many role reversals that can occur, you may be taking care of a spouse or partner who used to take more care of you, and now you have to adjust to take on their responsibilities as well.  You may be the child of a parent who has cancer and they have a hard time accepting help from their adult child.  You may be an adult who must now rely on their parents once again for care, which is also hard to accept.  You may have health problems yourself, making it difficult to care for someone else.  Whatever the role you are taking on may be, it might be hard, stressful, or confusing, It is important to use your resources and to take each day one step at a time.

Many caregivers look back and wish they had asked for more help, they may have taken on too much responsibility.  Remember that it is ok to ask for help, be open to letting people do chores such as cooking or cleaning, watch children, and drive to appointments.  Accepting this help isn’t always easy, but taking on too much can cause stress and can make you unhealthy.

There is also a wealth of support offered through every hospital, there are support groups and services to help you and your loved one.  Keep in mind that sometimes it is hard to talk about your feelings and situation, but talking about it and having others listen who are in a similar situation can be one of the best things you can do to cope.

8. Are there any books that can help with what I am feeling?

“Caring for the Caregiver” is a book that was created by the National Cancer Institute and is available for free to download, it covers your feelings and asking for help, making time for yourself, caring for yourself, how to handle medical visits with your loved one, and talking to your family and friends about cancer.


The American Cancer Society has published several books on Caregiving:

“The Essential Guide to Cancer Caregiving at Home”

“Cancer Caregiving A to Z”

“How to Help your Friend with Cancer”

These selections are available for purchase on their website.


“Things I Wish I’d Known: Cancer Caregiver Speak Out” is a collection of interviews with cancer caregivers across the U.S and is an excellent resource.


“The Art of caregiving: How to lend support and encouragement to those with cancer” is a book recently released that helps guide caregivers through the difficult patient experience and is written by the director of pastoral care at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.