How do you care for a loved one recovering from cancer without making them feel helpless?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 13, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How do you care for a loved one recovering from both cancer and a growth on the brain without making them feel like they are helpless?

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.

Hello Anonymous, Caring for a recovering cancer patient can be difficult, and your situation is particularly tricky to address because a growth on the brain can mean many things. Your question doesn't specify what neurologic impact the growth has had -- that is, how it has impacted the patient's ability to function. Nor do you give detail on the cancer location or staging, so we'll talk in generalities.

Ownership of tasks is important for their sense of independence. You'll need to assess what the patient is capable of doing on their own -- to their standards, not yours -- and let them do it. If the patient can accomplish the basics of eating, dressing, bathing, and toileting safely alone, encourage it. Then add on other related responsibilities like helping with dishes, coming with you when buying groceries, or cleaning the bathroom. If he/she is more fully-functioning, say able to drive a car, manage money, or socialize outside the home, it becomes a question of your involvement. Much like the parent teaching the child to ride a bike has to let them fall a couple of times, you have to be willing to let them fail(not compromising their safety, of course)at taking care of themselves. This way, they will start to understand their limitations and be able to make the choice to ask for help or not.

I encountered this with my father, who had trouble walking after severe weight loss and chemotherapy. His weakness caused him to stumble and almost fall before asking (his daughter!) for help. Making that choice to ask for help or doing it themselves is empowering to the patient. Remember that there is a component of pride and embarrassment as well, and be gentle about stepping on these emotions.

If the patient has trouble accomplishing the basics, bring in others to help you. Changing up caregivers is good for both you and the patient. There are many talented physical therapists or home health care services that can take the burden off you so that you can enjoy a more pleasant relationship with the patient. You've been at this a long time from the sound of it. Remember to do nice things for yourself to avoid caregiver fatigue.

Feel free to write back with specifics -- I can probably provide more detailed advice if I know more about the circumstances. Good luck.