What are some tips for a long distance caregiver to a dad with pancreatic cancer?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

When my parent is 5 hours away by plane, how do I give them the support and the care they need? I am an only child, my parents are half the continent away from me and my Dad just got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer(stage IV). With response to treatments and life expectancy unknown, what are some guidelines on trying to figure out my time helping and caring for my parents? Planned dates, tickets already bought for periods of time? Take one day at a time is the way they say they want to do things, and I do understand the value of that. But I have a school-age child and a working husband, and the costs of airfare alone prohibit me from making last minute trips.

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

Any late stage cancer demands attention. The median, or average, survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients at this stage is 8-12 months. Those months will bring continual debilitation and loss of independence for him.

Immediately you should:

  • Identify two people in his city and yours (outside family) that are willing and able to assist in personal or medical issues. This is short-term commitment and you may not need to call on them, but knowing they are there will give you peace of mind.
  • Determine what is needed in both places and what you can do, physically and financially. Keep in communication via phone and email.
  • Set priorities and stick to them. Your dad may go into the hospital the day of your child’s school play – go to the play. Understand if you are part of this process you will be managing two distinct parts of your life and you are likely to miss out or fall short in either part.
  • Plan dates you will be there, and buy tickets in group purchases, if possible, to get a volume discount. Many airlines will code your ticket for date flexibility if they know you’re caring for a cancer patient.  Can you visit every six weeks or so for the next few months and slightly more often after that?
  • Research what hospice and respite programs are available to your father, mother and your. As his condition worsens, he will likely need assistance daily. Many of these programs are covered by insurance. Find out your options and choose what’s best for you and your dad.

This will be difficult  – make sure you have an outlet for your own stress so that you can still be a loving, effective mother, daughter and wife.