Being a caregiver for a patient with cancer, whether family or friend, is a challenging and daunting task, but there are ways in which you can help.

1. Cancer patients need to be aided and assisted, not avoided. Do not be afraid to visit; do not be afraid to offer your help.

2. Cancer is not a contagious disease. Touching usually helps. It is important, particularly in those patients who are close friends or family members to recognize that hugging can help. Physical contact is often desired, but do not be put off if the loved one initially rejects your attempts at physical intimacy or physical contact. It takes time to adjust to the thought of a cancer diagnosis. It takes time to adjust to the realization that your body has somehow “let you down.” All of this will come about and the need and desire for physical contact becomes real.

3. Optimism is infectious. It can be transferred. It can be transmitted. False optimism, however, can be unkind. The patient often cannot believe that they will get through even the simplest part of the treatment plan. Realistic optimism can help this immeasurably.

4. Silence does not mean rejection. Often, your presence can be more valuable than your words.If the patient does not wish to talk, do not try to force the issue. Conversely, if you fear the silence, and suspect withdrawal, ask. The simplest approach is often the best—”do you wish talk, do you wish me to stay, would you like me to leave?” Establish a firm understanding that you will do what the patient wants and be pleased to do so.

5. Laughter and tears are both emotions. There is a place for both—share them. Even in the darkest hour, laughter can be kindled.

6. If you really think that you have an idea that will help – ask. If the suggestion is accepted, do it, if it is not, then drop it and return to it another day if you think it is really important. The patient with cancer is often overwhelmed and has difficulty making the simplest of decisions. Forcing the issue will rarely help. Accepting that some decisions cannot be made now, is just empathetic understanding.

7. Often the easiest way you can help is by helping those who the patient loves. Caring for a child, a spouse or a pet can often alleviate stress far more than direct assistance to the patient. Most patients fear not just for themselves, but they fear what their illness will do to those they love.

8. Insurance companies are not always right. Often a willingness to make a call to address an issue of an insurance carrier for a patient relieves an intolerable burden that adds to their difficulty. Tenacity in this situation will often win out. Nothing cheers the insurance carrier more than you giving up!

9. Be very sure that you understand the relationship that the patient and the doctor have before jumping into the midst of it. On occasions, you can make that relationship better by asking questions, or by listening. On other occasions, it can be destructive. Assess ahead of time with the patient what they need you to ask of the doctor and what they need you to listen for or take notes on.

10. The future is not off-limits—it can be discussed. Plans can be made; provisions to be met can be discussed, but only in the context of not removing hope, because the future is where hope lies.


Information taken from The Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative.