Cancer Caregiver as Communicator
This week we're beginning a series on cancer caregivers. Caregivers are family, friends, and volunteers who help a cancer patient during treatment and recovery. The cancer caregiver plays a vital role in supporting the patient during a difficult time. Our series will focus on the many roles a caregiver may play: Communicator, advocate, decision maker, and supporter. Today's post looks at the cancer caregiver as communicator. As a caregiver for a patient with cancer, you may be asked to serve as the communicator between the patient and their health care team. The following tips are designed to help you communicate effectively in that role: Realize it's a team effort. Family members, friends, and health care providers are all part of the cancer care team. Each member contributes, and each may have an opinion about care. Many of these people will want updates about the patient’s treatment and health condition. It’s not always possible to keep everyone in the loop, and the patient may prefer some level of privacy. The patient may ask for your help in keeping close loved ones up to date. Some loved ones may also feel a need to be involved in medical decisions or to communicate with doctors. While their intentions are good, it may be best if the patient or a single designee communicates with the health care team to avoid miscommunication. Managing communication between all these interested parties can be difficult. CancerCare provides a website called My Cancer Circle to help caregivers organize the family and friends who want to help the patient or the caregiver. Create task lists and schedules. Stay organized by making a list of all of your cancer caregiving tasks. You can use it to allow friends, family, professional care providers, others to lend a hand. By being proactive, you can plan as much as possible to prevent last-minute emergencies. Schedules will help you know which loved ones or volunteers are available at which times and for which tasks. Stay positive. This can be difficult in light of a cancer diagnosis. As a cancer caregiver, keeping a positive attitude gives hope to the patient for whom you're caring. How you react to adversity affects the mood and spirit of the patient. If you need help coping, ask other members of the caregiving team, friends, spiritual advisors, or professional counselors. You don’t have to shoulder this burden alone. Gather information. In an upcoming post in our Cancer Caregivers series, we’ll talk about the importance of gathering information. You’ll need to do some research to learn more about cancer. Talk to the doctor about credible resources. It’s a good idea to keep a cancer care journal, which includes details about medical appointments, test results, treatments, symptoms and side effects. You can also use a journal to write down questions between appointments, or as a place for storing important contact info for medical providers, pharmacies, etc. Be sure to make a note of any alternative cancer treatments the patient is undergoing. Speak with the insurance company. The patient’s insurance company may assign a representative to handle insurance issues during cancer treatment. This representative can help you understand which treatments are covered, what arrangements are necessary for out-of-network treatment, or help find home care. The patient may need to speak with the insurance company to authorize you to speak on his or her behalf. Organize legal documents. Making health care decisions on behalf of a patient requires certain legal documents to be in place. Advance directives are a legally binding indication of a patient's treatment wishes. The patient may also designate you or another person as a health care proxy to legally make health care decisions when he or she is unable to do so. The decision of who to designate as a health care proxy should be made early and communicated to the health care team. You’ll also want to gather other legal documents, such as a power of attorney for health care or a living will. Spend time with the patient. One of your most important tasks as a cancer caregiver is to communicate openly with the patient you’re caring for. Make time to talk regularly. Involve the patient in discussions and decisions. Be open to his or her feelings. Allow enough time for both of you to open up and speak honestly about feelings and concerns.