Brain Tumors: Helping a Family Member or Friend
When someone you care about has a brain tumor, it can be hard to know how to respond.
News of the diagnosis might be a shock to everyone. But there are many ways you can
Being a caregiver
If you will be a main caregiver for your family member or friend, learn as much as
you can about the type of brain tumor. Try to go with your loved one to medical appointments.
Learn how the tumor will be treated and what to expect during and after treatment.
Ask the healthcare team for online resources and local support services.
The team may include:
Talk with them to find out:
How to keep your loved one comfortable
How to give or monitor medicines
What symptoms you should expect and what you should watch for
How to help manage side effects
What to do in case of an emergency
What kind of food and drink are best
How to deal with depression and mood changes
How to manage changes in thinking
How to keep the person active
How to get him or her rehabilitation (rehab), if needed
Other ways to help
If you are not a main caregiver, you can show your support in many ways. Your loved
one will need help at some point. Help can include driving for errands, mowing the
lawn, or even watching a movie together. Maybe you can prepare meals for their family.
Or maybe you can be the person they can talk to about tough topics, like death and
Many people with cancer feel awkward asking for help. Make sure your friend or loved
one knows you are available. Check in often and try to offer specific things. For
instance, instead of "Can I do anything for you?" try "I'm going to the grocery store.
What can I pick up for you?"
Chip in with tasks
You can make this process easier by offering your help first, instead of waiting to
be asked. Volunteer to drive to and from appointments. Think about what tasks you
can do when he or she is in treatment and recovery. For example, you might:
Help your loved one remember and keep track of appointments, healthcare provider visits,
and other tasks.
Drive your loved one to appointments.
Carpool or tutor children.
Cook dinner and eat it together.
Make meals that can be frozen and easily reheated.
Mow or maintain the yard.
Do everyday chores, such as dishes, laundry, and vacuuming.
Keep track of household safety. For example, make sure the oven and coffee pot are
shut off after use.
Spend some quality time
It helps to devote a set day and time each week (or more often) to help with cooking
or chores. That way your loved one has something to look forward to. And if he or
she is well enough, going out for a drive, attending a religious service, or seeing
a movie with you might be much appreciated. Sometimes, simply showing up and spending
some quiet time together relaxing, and giving other caregivers a break, is the best
kind of help you can give.
Keep things organized
An important way to help is organizing medical records. This includes surgery, chemotherapy,
or radiation records. These records are very vital, especially when a second opinion
is needed. Maybe you have special skills you can offer to help with more complex issues.
For example, if you know accounting, you can help with medical bills and insurance
Help them get emotional support
One way to reach out is to give emotional support. Or you can help your loved one
find a good source of support. Many people who have brain tumors find it helpful to
talk to others who have been through a similar situation. The National Brain Tumor
Society (www.braintumor.org) is a resource for both people with cancer and their families.
It has information on both virtual groups and in-person support.
Be a social buffer
You can help other people understand your loved one's symptoms. Often, people with
cancer seem fine because some symptoms may be "invisible" until the person faces certain
situations. These might be when the person tries to remember names, directions, or
how to do a task. You can be a buffer to stressful interactions. This can be reassuring
to your loved one.
Help them through rehab
People with brain tumors may have problems with speech and mobility. These problems
can occur both before and after treatment. They may even have some personality changes.
It might take some time for them to do daily tasks or have a conversation. Rehab is
important for helping with these problems. Keep in touch with the rehab team. The
team may include physical and occupational therapists. Learn all you can about the
rehab plan so you can find ways to help your loved one achieve his or her goals and
heal. Ask your loved one's healthcare provider what can be done to help improve cognitive
health. Cognitive treatments may be especially important after cancer treatment ends.
Get support for yourself
If you are a caregiver, you will also need support to help with your own stress. In
addition to grief over your loved one's condition, you may be feeling anxiety, fear,
frustration, or anger at the stress of caregiving and the way your own life has changed.
Try not to feel guilty or ashamed of these feelings. They are very normal. It may
help you to seek therapy to work through some of these emotions.