Caregiving from Afar: How to Help When You Can't Be There

Dec. 21, 2016

Woman on the phoneIt’s hard to cope when a loved one has cancer, and it’s even more difficult if you are separated by miles. Whether it’s your parent, child, relative or friend, there are ways to lend a caring hand even from a distance. Wilmot Cancer Institute Social Worker Sandra Sabatka offers these ideas:

Keep the lines of communication open: Make sure your loved one knows he or she can talk to you about thoughts and concerns. Phone calls and text messaging make this easy, but you may also consider video chat programs like FaceTime on the iPhone or Google Hangouts on any device. While it might not be quite the same as talking in person, where you can offer a hug or comforting touch, it’s a step up from talking on the phone and can be a good compromise when being together in person is not possible.

Meet the health care team and learn all you can: When you’re able to visit in person, try to coordinate your visit with an appointment so you have an opportunity to meet your loved one’s health care providers face to face. While searching online for information is easy, a loved one’s health care team is his or her best resource because they can provide information tailored to the individual’s situation.

Explore home care services: One thing you can search for online is home care options for your loved one. Once you’ve found possible options, come up with questions and give each a call to learn more about the services they offer to find the best fit.

Coordinate volunteers close by to help: Whether it’s co-workers, friends, fellow church members or neighbors, your loved one is bound to have someone in his hometown who’d be willing to help. Reaching out and finding people who can assist with tasks like meals, transportation to doctor’s visits, and other needs can take some of the burden off your loved one.

Mindfully prepare for visits: When you are able to spend time in person with your loved one, be prepared that it might be a challenging visit, emotionally and physically. Seeing someone you love go through cancer is not easy and preparing yourself mentally before you arrive is a good idea. In the same vein, plan to spend true quality time with the person while you can, which might mean avoiding work and staying off your phone as much as possible. This is precious time you have together.

Seek emotional support: When someone you love has cancer, it’s important to get help from others if you need it. Find someone you can talk to about your feelings, whether it’s someone you know or a professional. It’s just as important to attend to your emotional needs if you’re caring for someone far away as it is when you’re caring for someone who lives close by.