When a Loved One has Cancer: Communicating and Coping

Meghana Giridhar - June 02, 2015 11:08 AM

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed and 589,430 cancer deaths in the US, in 2015. 

A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming not just for the person affected but also family and the primary caregiver. Primary caregivers are the main source of support through a cancer patient’s journey. Communication can be very challenging whether it is with your loved one, the medical team or near and dear ones.

Here are some tips that could help ease the process:

Plan with Your Loved One:
Before discussing anything with a doctor, it is vital to get the permission of the loved one who has been diagnosed. Including them in the care conversation is the first step in making the path slightly easy. Advance Directive forms should be prepared and signed so that your loved one’s wishes are carried out during the course of the care.

Choosing the Primary Care Physician:
Often, there are various doctors involved in the care process. It is important to choose a doctor and determine if they can act as the the main care coordinator and keep other specialists informed.

Talk to the Medical Team:
Medical information is always private and protected by laws. But as a caregiver who is the main care coordinator, it is vital you are fully informed of developments. The best way is for your loved one who has been diagnosed to sign a release form that allows the information to be shared with the caregiver. This kind of form is called the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) form. Discussing next steps and keeping the team informed of care-related developments will also be possible.

Being Present for Doctor Appointments:
It is always advised that the caregiver be present with the patient for all doctor’s appointments not only to support but to also understand more about the medical condition. Getting a list of referrals for nurses, specialists etc is also easier when you are face-to-face with a doctor.

Making the Most of a Doctor Visit:
Preparing questions in advance is key to a successful meeting with doctors, who are often hard pressed for time. Making a list of items that range from urgent to routine can help you as well as the doctor to provide all answers in the most effective manner. Writing their responses down or using a voice recorder is also helpful for future reference.

Tests & Medications:
Cancer treatments involve many tests and medication prescriptions. Caregivers must know in advance what the test results indicate and who would provide the information. When it comes to medications, the name of the medicine, manner of usage, dosage, side effects must be understood beforehand.

Family Care Circle:
Being the primary caregiver to a person diagnosed with cancer is a 24/7 job. Keeping other family members and friends posted is a task that often stays on the backburner. This can cause resentment and frustration. The best way of dealing with this to have family meetings or a call so everyone is in the loop regarding latest developments, working to meet the patient’s needs, garnering emotional support, enlisting help and discussing financial matters.

Keeping communication lines open with everyone who is part of the care circle and most importantly the patient can make this arduous journey a little less lonely.

Here are additional resources related to cancer caregiving:

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA)/National Center on Caregiving

National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC)

Well Spouse Association (WSA)

Caregiver Action Network

Cancer Hope Network


National Cancer Institute



Meghana Giridhar serves as Content Coordinator and is part of eCareDiary's founding team.  In her role, she oversees and edits content across all of eCareDiary's media platforms.

If you found this article useful, please click the “Share This” icon below to make it available to your family and friends.

Your Answers and Comments


Post your answer or comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.

Previous Articles

More Previous Articles