What Is a Cancer Doula?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on September 05, 2022

If you have terminal or end-stage cancer, a cancer doula can give you the emotional, educational, and physical help you may need. Cancer doulas, or end-of-life doulas, can offer you support, alongside your medical team, while you adjust to your final phase of life.

Doulas usually help women during pregnancy, birth, and after delivery. But they’ve recently started to play a role in other health conditions, such as cancer.

Unlike mainstream health care providers, doulas have the freedom to give personalized treatment that usually includes a high level of involvement in your life.

Doulas offer many types of support for you and your family. You may need all of them, or only require a few:

  • Emotional help. This is a huge part of your doula’s job. They can help you stay calm, comforted, and look out for your family’s well being, too.
  • Involvement. Your doula will listen to you and be there during hard times.
  • Resources. They’ll be able to offer you referrals to other types of care in your community.
  • Guidance. The doula can help with your end-of-life needs and create a plan to fulfill your wishes.
  • Comfort. This might involve hands-on methods or other exercises to keep you comfortable.
  • Education. A doula will share as much information with you as you want. They’ll give you unbiased details to help you stay in the loop about your condition.
  • Other help. You might need your doula to help with household chores, transportation, or errands if you’re physically or mentally unable to do them.

You might choose to pair the care from your hospital or hospice service with a doula. They’ll be able to fill in the areas between your medical treatment. A doula will give you extra hours of care to make your end-stage cancer journey easier.

Doulas can help you at any point in your cancer journey. But people with terminal cancer usually get help from a doula days, weeks, or months before they die.

There’s no government certification for end-of-life doulas. But there are many programs that train them, like the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) and the Lifespan Doula Association.

According to their model of care, your doula will be:

  • Judgment-free. They won’t apply their values to you during your care. They won’t favor certain methods of treatment over others.
  • Family-focused. Doulas won’t replace your loved ones. Instead they’ll make sure they’re a part of your care program.
  • Nonmedical. They aren’t trained to give you medical care. You’ll still need to see your doctor.
  • Holistic. Doulas will address many aspects of your well-being like your social, physical, mental, and spiritual needs.
  • Teamwork. The doula will be part of your care team.
  • Empowerment. They’ll help you learn about the challenges you face so you can make decisions with confidence.

Your doula will adjust the model of care to fit your specific needs.

Some doulas have their own private practices. Others give care alongside hospice services, hospitals, or other organizations.

To find a doula, you can ask your doctor or the professionals at your hospice care. You can also look for a doula on the INELDA or Lifespan Doula Association websites.

Most people get help from a doula inside their home. But doulas can also to work at your assisted living home, independent living facility, or hospice house.


Show Sources

National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NEDA): “The Doula Model of Care.”

Mayo Clinic: “What are the benefits of having a doula.”

AARP: “Learning to Serve the Dying.”

End of Life Washington: “End-of-Life Doulas Provide a Helping Hand to the Dying.”           

International End of Life Doula Association: “Doula Directory.”

Lifespan Doulas: “End-of-Life-Doula-Directory.”



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