A cancer diagnosis raises many practical concerns and challenges. There are appointments to keep and bills to pay, as well as paperwork to manage. As a caregiver, it likely falls on you to manage many of these tasks – in addition to keeping up with your usual responsibilities and filling in for some of the roles that used to be handled by your loved one.
Tips for managing the practical issues related to your loved one’s cancer:
Use a calendar. There are many ways to keep track of appointments, including smart phones or a simple wall calendar. Whichever method you like is fine – the important thing is to use it consistently. Record any appointments or events as soon as you know about them, and always check the calendar before you make plans.
Get to know your entitlements and work benefits. There are a number of federal and state programs that provide financial benefits to individuals and families, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. A social worker can direct you to the governmental agencies that oversee these programs. Read CancerCare’s fact sheet, “Cancer and the Workplace,” to learn how the Americans with Disability Act and the Family Medical Leave Act can help.
Familiarize yourself with your loved one’s insurance policy. Understand ahead of time what services are covered and what the co-payments will be for the various treatments your loved one may need.
Keep important papers together in an accessible file. Keep your loved one’s medical information in one place, such as a three-ring binder. This makes it easy to find what you need quickly, as well as to carry everything with you to appointments. Organize the information in the way that works best for you. For example, you might have different dividers for prescription information, important phone numbers, lab tests, or medical bills.
Find resources in your community. There are many organizations that provide help with medical billing, insurance coverage, and reimbursement issues. There is also financial assistance available to help people who cannot afford the cost of their medications. Good places to start your research are the websites of the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (www.cancerfac.org) and the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org). Other organizations provide lodging for families of a patient undergoing treatment. Joe’s House is an online directory of places to stay near hospitals and treatment centers. Visit www.joeshouse.org for more information.
Speak with an oncology social worker. Oncology social workers, such as those at CancerCare, specialize in helping people cope with cancer. They can provide emotional support and help you develop a plan for dealing with practical challenges. They are also familiar with a wide range of resources for people with cancer and can provide you with referrals tailored to your needs.
Ask for help from friends and family members. The stress of caregiving can take a toll on the emotional and physical health of caregivers. Having friends and family members help with day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping, doing laundry, preparing meals, or providing child care, can help prevent caregiver burnout.
Join a support group for caregivers. Other cancer caregivers can provide a wealth of information about how they have coped with similar challenges and resources or organizations they have found especially helpful. In addition, support groups provide a safe haven to express your feelings and share your experiences. CancerCare provide free support groups for people affected by cancer and their caregivers.