A Buddy System for Caregivers and Families

05/12/2015 02:14 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016


A diagnosis of cancer does not only affect the patient but also affects every single family member, friend, coworker, associate and acquaintance of that patient. Most important to note is that the patient receives the best of care possible from a whole team of doctors who are there to deal with and handle every medical need imaginable. And if all that a patient needed in order to deal with their cancer was the medical care then we could end this discussion right here. However, the medical care is far from the only factor in not only dealing with the immediate physical disease but also the mental toll that such an illness takes on a patient. There is also the matter of living your life during and after the immediate surgeries, treatment and long-term care that may be necessary. And that, of course, includes those who are most important in your life and their well-being at the same time.

For many, your spouse or significant other or other primary adult in your household will become the primary person who will be managing your care both with regard to your medical care and your normal responsibilities. Therefore it becomes most important to recognize that this person not only has to deal with their normal responsibilities but now must take on a whole new set that are yours and this is no easy task for anyone especially when there is also the added stress of your health and what that holds for the future.

Just like a patient needs a whole team of people to help, so should a primary caregiver be afforded the opportunity to have a support team. Your caregiver needs someone with whom they can talk and share how they are feeling. They need to have an emotional outlet especially if the patient has been the person with whom they usually share their most intimate thoughts and feelings. They will need to have help with dealing with the household chores including the cleaning and laundry and shopping and preparing of meals. And if there are children in the household, assistance will be needed to take care of the children and their daily needs as well. Perhaps a close family member or friend can help with the very young and their care. For the older children, you might be able to enlist the parents of your children's friends to help with carpool duty to and from school and for extracurricular activities. Maybe a neighbor or some of your work associates would be willing to pitch in and deliver some home-cooked meals to you and your family or be willing to help with some of your grocery shopping when they head out to the store to do their own shopping.

And, of course, let's not forget the children, who are in an especially vulnerable position at this time. Depending upon their ages, they may or may not understand what is going on but the one thing that they do know is that their parent is sick. Not only has their routine been disrupted but also they will have a fear that their parent will not be there for them in the future. I would like to suggest that each child is provided with an adult who is outside of the home who will act as the child's very own "to go to" person. This may be a neighbor or a parent of one of the child's friends or a family relative who is nearby. This person and the person's home should be a place to which the child can escape when they are feeling overwhelmed or having problems with dealing with what is going on in their own home. This person can be someone who has been entrusted as a confidante and an overseer of the child's wellbeing and can report any issues to the parent if it appears that the child is in need of other help or attention.

Help is always available for patients and those who are doing what they can to support the patient's support team. If you find that you don't know what to do or where to seek help, you can always look to answers from your medical team, your local support agencies, your church, your school's PTO or just about anyone that you know. I have found that just about anyone is willing to help if you just reach out and ask them for that help or their opinion or guidance in finding the help and resources that you need. And there are always plenty of resources provided by a whole host of non-profit organizations that you can find with a little research on the Internet. Most important to remember is that you and your family are not alone. There is help available if you are willing to just reach out and ask for it.