How to Create a Strong Cancer Support Team
8 steps to pull together the help you'll need
Reach out to the patient's cancer-fighting team
As the full reality of what it means to care for someone with cancer starts to sink in, one thing becomes clear: It takes a village. Because the disease is multifaceted and affects so many aspects of the patient's life, a number of health professionals will be involved in her care. And as time goes on, you'll need other services that can make her -- and your -- life easier. You'll likely find yourself communicating and coordinating with those professionals as well. As caregiver, you'll be like the captain of a sports team, making sure the right people are in the right positions and everyone's working together to win the game. Here are the eight steps involved in putting together a best-of-league care team.
1. Get to know the patient's doctor -- and the rest of the medical staff.
It's much easier to talk to people you know. As time goes on, you'll have lots of questions, and you're more likely to get helpful answers if the doctors know you. Tell the person you're caring for that you'd like to go to appointments with her primary care doctor, oncologist, and any specialists involved, such as surgeons. If she resists, a good ploy is to offer to take notes. Her oncologist will probably choose or recommend the other experts involved in her care, but you can meet those experts and make sure they're up to your standards. And if you've heard about a particular surgeon or other expert you'd like her to see, you can always ask the oncologist's opinion.
2. Introduce yourself to the receptionist, the nurses, and anyone else you come into contact with.
When you take the person you're caring for to pick up a prescription, stand nearby while the pharmacist goes over the instructions -- making sure both of you understand them -- and don't leave without introducing yourself to him, too. You never know when you may need to go back or call with additional questions. "As you and the person you're caring for figure out what you're going to do in terms of treatment, you also want to be thinking about who's going to help you do it," says Bonnie Bajorek Daneker, author of The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone With Cancer.
3. Enlist or notify the person's dentist.
It can be hard to anticipate the issues that may come up during someone's care, and you don't want to be caught by surprise. You may, for example, want to have her contact her dentist and notify him of the cancer diagnosis, since dental issues can complicate cancer treatment. Ask the dentist if she should go in for a checkup to make sure there aren't any issues with gum disease or infection, which can contribute to some types of cancer. Also, chemotherapy and radiation can cause problems such as dry mouth and mouth sores, and you may want to enlist the dentist's help with these.