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Ask Vanessa: Caring for Loved Ones with Cancer

Vanessa Valerio

Senior Care

Oct 09, 2023

6 min read

Dear Vanessa,

My 73-year-old husband has been diagnosed with lung cancer. He’s expected to leave the hospital soon. Can you give me advice on how to care for a loved one with cancer? What are the common problems that people with cancer experience? How do I cope with emotional challenges? Thank you. 

- Becky

Dear Becky,

There is no formal training needed to be a caregiver. With your love and support, you can be the most important member of your husband’s health care team. He will need your emotional support to help him handle his feelings about cancer. He will also rely on you for help with treatment decisions, physical care, financial and legal planning, and activities of daily living (ADLs).

Listen, share your feelings, and ask questions; these are ways to lend emotional support. To help with treatment and physical care, you can do any of the following: research options, talk with his health care providers, go with him to medical appointments, discuss treatment goals, cook nutritious meals, assist with bathing, dressing, and grooming, and help manage treatment side effects. Learn about advance directives. Keep track of his health plan information, schedule bill payments, and organize and file important papers.

A cancer diagnosis produces much fear; it is feared far more than heart disease, and is synonymous with death, pain, dependency, and disfigurement. Your husband may experience strong feelings which may include: shock, denial, worry, anger, depression, and grief. You may go through the same emotions, and in addition, feel guilty, discouraged, and overwhelmed. It helps to understand that these feelings are normal. It may help to record your thoughts and feelings in a journal or diary. Do keep in mind that understanding and continued warm, responsive caring are the best approaches.

As your husband’s needs change, your role as caregiver may change over time. Your husband’s role may change, too. He may be uncomfortable with the fact that he is now the one needing help. If he is very private, he may only want you to care for him. Consulting a mental health professional can help the both of you learn to accept your new roles. To handle disagreements, follow these tips: be clear about what you want or need, listen actively and don’t interrupt or walk away, repeat what you heard back to your husband (to help show you’ve understood), and reach a compromise that works for both of you. Talk to your husband’s doctor or nurse; contact people who know or have been in your situation. They can give you the information that you are looking for. If you have children, ask them to call or visit often, if possible. If they live far, encourage them to send letters, cards, and e-mails to let your husband know that they are thinking of him. Studies show that the patient who has effective support systems tends to cope more effectively than the patient without a meaningful support system.

Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet, get enough physical activity, and get enough rest. Avoid turning to alcohol or other drugs to relieve stress, and learn to manage stress. You need to maintain your own physical and emotional health to provide the best possible care, and enjoy time with your husband. If you need respite, consider hiring a paid caregiver. To cope with emotional challenges, take these steps: recognize your own limitations, set priorities, make time for yourself, draw on your support network, join a support group, and seek spiritual guidance. You will soon find that caring for your husband is a great way to feel closer to him, and show how much you care about him. Keep a positive attitude, and seek ways to laugh and enjoy life.

Vanessa Valerio


Vanessa Valerio

Chief Operating Officer

Passionate about living life and loving people fully. Has an adventurous spirit and an unusual craving for mangoes. Her mantra: Always be loving and kind.

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