Behind every Olympian there is a team of trainers helping him or her prepare for competition. Cancer patients also have a team behind them. Cancer caregivers are just like Olympic trainers and coaches – they’re willing to go the distance for the person battling cancer and act as a beacon of hope. Having a support team is critical to a cancer patient’s recovery.
Author and cancer survivor, Lori Hope, talks about how important and helpful it is to have a caregiver in her book, Help Me Live: 20 Things People With Cancer Want You To Know. “We want nothing more than to offer comfort and support, and foster hope. But we don’t always know how—and may feel uncomfortable asking,” said Hope.
Following her own treatment for cancer, Hope asked cancer survivors about issues surrounding their cancer journey that they wanted their families, friends and caregivers to understand. Here are five of the things that she discovered and encourages cancer caregivers to be mindful of.
Five tips for cancer caregivers
Listening to how the patient is feeling that day about their situation will help you (the caregiver) listen for the patient. It is helpful when a cancer patient designates a “healthcare advocate or listener” who will go with them to appointments and write down questions for the doctors, dietitians and nurses. A caregiver can be a second set of ears and someone to talk to. Sometimes just listening to their feelings is important. There will be a time when you don’t know what to say and that’s OK. Simply showing that you’re actively listening is comforting.
Share hopeful stories and experiences as part of daily conversation. Every conversation does not need to revolve around cancer. Talking about a television show or something that happened in the news often acts as the best dose of inspiration.
How often have we said, “Let me know if I can help,” only to never take action on those words? Often times a cancer patient is hesitant to ask for help. Setting up meals or a creating a chore chart are the acts of kindness that bolster the cancer patient.
We know that smoking is the root cause of many cancers, but the first introduction as a caregiver to the patient should never include the question, “Do you/did you smoke?”
While smoking represents 90 percent of the lung cancers diagnosed, there is often much guilt associated with getting lung cancer, smoker or not.
The caregiver’s role is to be on the support team and not debate if smoking was the cause. Simply saying the diagnosis was “unfair” lets the patient know you care and understand it could happen to anyone.
If you don't have time to be a “caregiver” for a friend or family member battling cancer, you can find and arrange for someone to play that role. There are many volunteer organizations through the American Cancer Society that offer services like rides to treatment sessions. Community Health Network also has cancer support groups for those battling the disease.
Community Health Network support groups are free and professionally-led. Meetings are hosted twice per month at both Community Hospital South and Community Health Pavilion Shadeland on Indianapolis's east side. For more information about cancer support groups, visit our website or call 317-257-1505 to register.