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Cancer Health Center

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Family Caregivers in Cancer (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Help for the Caregiver


Family Meetings

When taking care of a cancer patient, family members need to work together. There may be problems and conflicts in some families, and the stress of caring for a relative with cancer can bring up old issues or make new ones. These conflicts may cause communication problems within the family and with the health care team. When there are conflicts like this, it may help to have family meetings with the health care team.

During a family meeting, the whole family talks with the health care team. Family meetings help the health care team and the caregivers connect and work together. It is important to include the family spokesperson and all caregivers. While everyone may be trying to do what they think is best for the patient, family members may disagree about what this means. During family meetings, family members can talk about how they feel or decide what kind of help they can give. Each person may have certain skills to offer. Family meetings may also help with the following:

  • Identify caregivers' concerns.
  • Give clear information about treatment.
  • Make it easier to make decisions about treatment choices and about care at the end of life.
  • Make sure the caregivers know that symptoms and side effects will be controlled.
  • Make sure that caregivers know that the wishes of the patient are being considered.

Family meetings are most helpful when:

  • There is a clear list of what is going to be discussed.
  • A member of the health care teams acts as the meeting leader.
  • Family members and caregivers are given the chance to ask questions and discuss concerns.
  • Family members and caregivers are free to talk about painful emotions and receive the help of trained professionals who care about them.

At the end of the meeting, the health care team may go over what was decided and plan the next steps.

See the PDQ summary on Communication in Cancer Care for more information about communication.

Home Care Help

Home care services for the cancer patient also give the caregiver support. State or local health departments usually have a list of licensed home care agencies. Some of the services that home care agencies provide include the following:

  • Visits from nurses, aides, therapists, and social workers.
  • Help with running errands, making meals, and bathing.
  • Delivery of medicine.
  • Use of medical equipment.
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