How to Get the Help You Need to Care for Someone With Cancer
Tasks you'll need help with to care for someone with cancer
The cardinal rule of caring for someone with cancer is that no caregiver can do it alone. The following categories of care will help remind you which things need immediate attention when someone asks, "How can I help?"
Cooking and serving
Cooking up a meal is a natural first instinct when we learn that someone is sick, but someone with cancer doesn't need a kitchen full of uneaten casseroles. When friends or relatives offer to bring food, be specific about his needs and how he'd like the food prepared.
- Make copies of his favorite recipes, or recipes for foods he has asked for, and hand them out. Or, better still, scan and e-mail the recipes.
- Mention specific dos and don'ts. If he has food allergies, is a vegetarian or a meat-and-potatoes person, or has other likes and dislikes (which is likely if he’s suffering from nausea), be sure to say so.
- Ask for food to be divided into single portions and wrapped in plastic wrap or put in disposable dishes for easy freezing and storing.
- Schedule friends and family members to help prepare meals and wash dishes.
Food and shopping
If someone offers to do a weekly grocery or general shopping run for the person you're caring for, that's a big help. (Be sure to pay them back from his funds unless they really want to contribute the goods occasionally.) Some ways to make shopping trips more efficient:
- Create a computer file titled "Grocery list" that includes all the staples he needs. Any time someone offers to make a trip, add and delete items from the core list and print it out (or e-mail it) to the day’s volunteer.
- Keep a running list of "things to buy" near the phone. Ask friends and family members to call you when they're headed for the drugstore, hardware store, nursery, big-box store, and so on. When they call, quickly scan the list and ask them to pick up the things you need, and reimburse them when they arrive.
- Order extra copies of the patient's medical ID card so volunteers can pick up prescriptions for him.
- Keep a list of his clothing sizes handy. That way if he asks for new slippers or a shirt without buttons (helpful if he has neuropathy), you’ll know exactly what size to ask for.
Get a large wall calendar with plenty of room to write in all the appointments and events that need to be scheduled. Recruit people to drive to specific appointments and activities and keep track of the times and who’s driving on the calendar. And when you need to take him to an appointment, don't hesitate to ask for driving help for your own household as well -- maybe a friend will be willing to take your children to after-school activities or weekend sporting events. Ask volunteers to drive him or your family to:
- Medical appointments
- Other types of therapy appointments (physical therapy, support groups)
- Alternative treatment appointments (massage therapist, acupuncturist, chiropractor, herbalist)
- Errands (drugstore, hardware store, and so on)
- Social functions (dinners out, bowling league, book group, sports events)
- Childcare (for your kids), school, activities, and social events
Around the house
It's not easy keeping up with everything that someone with cancer needs done. It may feel uncomfortable asking friends and family to help with household tasks, but they're often eager to contribute. Ask them to:
- Wash and sort a load of laundry.
- Do the dishes or empty the dishwasher.
- Clean out the refrigerator.
- Walk the dog or feed the cat.
- Care for houseplants.
- Shovel snow from the walk or driveway.
- Water or weed the garden.
- Form a "maid brigade" once a week to dust, vacuum, and clean bathrooms.
- Extra tasks
There's always something more you haven't been able to get around to. When a trusted friend or relative calls with an impromptu offer of help and the basic tasks are well covered, why not ask her to do one of the following:
- Take the car to the shop for servicing.
- Fill out insurance forms.
- Send thank-you notes.
- Take the dog or cat to the vet.
- Research a new treatment option you’ve heard about.