Coping With Emotions

Being a Caregiver for a Cancer Patient: Communicating on Behalf of a Patient

Streamline your communication with friends and family members about your loved one's progress by setting personal boundaries and creating contact lists.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, family members and friends rally. People come out of the woodwork to help, to pray and — if we are being honest — to be nosy. As a caregiver, one of your responsibilities is communicating on behalf of a patient during treatment. You are often the person others contact for updates on your loved one’s progress, and if you don’t set guidelines, you can become frustrated and fatigued quickly. Once you’ve embraced your role as a caregiver, learn how to keep everyone in the know without overextending yourself.

Set Visiting Hours

It’s lovely when well-wishers approach your doorstep ready to visit and encourage your loved one. Supportive friends are important during this stressful time. However, without some boundaries, these visitors can increase your household stress.

Your loved one may be feeling overwhelmed or fatigued from treatment, and you both may want to cozy up on the couch without worrying about entertaining guests. Setting home visiting hours is a great way to allow people to stop by while still giving you and your loved one time and space to relax. Choose a few consistent days and times throughout the week, like Tuesdays from 5-7 p.m. and Sundays from 12-4 p.m. Make sure the times are convenient for you and your loved one, and do not conflict with any standing appointments.

Send your visiting hours via email to friends, family members and coworkers. You can even post them on social media, but make sure you’re aware of how many people may see the post. You don’t need to give a lengthy explanation for setting visiting hours. Use simple, positive language to relay your message: “To keep us healthy, rested and encouraged, we are welcoming guests at our home during these visiting hours.”

Set Up Contact Lists

Family members and friends understandably want to keep up with your loved one’s progress and major developments. Instead of responding to multiple text messages or emails after a doctor appointment, send out one update to everyone at once. Use your phone or computer to set up mailing lists. For example, set up one list for family, one list for coworkers or supervisors, and another list for friends.

Delegate Tasks

Caregiving can be a hard role to take on alone. If you have a few friends who are reliable and organized, consider delegating tasks to them. Ask one friend to pull together a meal drop-off calendar by giving her a list of days you could use help with meal preparation, along with any food aversions or allergies. That’s one task off your plate, and you and your loved one will enjoy having meals dropped off at your home. This may also be a great opportunity to visit with family and friends.

Ask another friend to coordinate help for school or extracurricular transportation when needed. This way, when a conflict comes up and you need someone to provide a meal or ride, you only have to communicate with your designated friends. They will put out the calls and get assistance organized throughout the month on your behalf.

Consider Mass Communications

If you feel up to it, consider giving general updates via a personal blog or social media. This way, everyone can read about how your loved one is doing without you having to draft multiple messages. Writing about the journey may be therapeutic for you as well. If you are worried about privacy, consider making your blog password protected and only accept friend requests on social media from people you know and trust.

Communicating on behalf of a patient can feel overwhelming at first, but with some boundaries in place and a few good friends to take the lead, you can provide updates to the people who love your loved one. Successfully handling your personal communications will help prepare you for conversations with your loved one’s doctors and other medical professionals.

Connecting with others during this trying time is as important for the caregiver as it is for the patient. UVA Cancer Center offers special support groups for caregivers.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress