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When Someone You Love Is Being Treated for Cancer

  • Posted: 01/05/2012

Life Planning

Facing Fertility Issues
Handling Money Worries
Handling Work Issues

It's common to feel sad, angry, or worried that your lifestyle may change because of your loved one's cancer. You may have to make major decisions that will affect your job or your finances. Finding ways to cope with these issues can bring some peace of mind.

Facing Fertility Issues

Some people are concerned about the effects of cancer treatment on their ability to have children. If this is true for you and your loved one, talk to the doctor before starting treatment. You may want to ask about options for protecting your fertility. Or the doctor can recommend a counselor or fertility specialist. This person can discuss available options and help you and your loved one make informed choices. (For more information, call Fertile Hope at 1-888-994-HOPE, or go to www.fertilehope.org.)

Handling Money Worries

"I'm not working for the money. I'm working for the benefits. If we don't have benefits, we could lose everything." - Philip

The financial challenges that people with cancer and their families face are very real. During an illness, you may find it hard to find the time or energy to review your options. Yet it's important to keep your family financially healthy.

For hospital bills, you or your loved one may want to talk with a hospital financial counselor. You may be able to work out a monthly payment plan or even get a reduced rate. You also should stay in touch with the insurance company to make sure certain treatment costs are covered.

For information about resources that are available, see the Resources section. You can also go to the NCI database, National Organizations that Offer Support Services. Or call toll-free 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) to ask for help.

Handling Work Issues

"A lot of times I come home from being at the hospital with no sleep and then have to go to work the next morning. It's very tiring." - Laurel

One of the greatest sources of strain for some caregivers is trying to balance work demands with providing care and support to a loved one. Caregiving can have effects on your work life in many ways, such as these:

  • Causing mood swings that leave coworkers confused or reluctant to work with you
  • Making you distracted or less productive
  • Causing you to be late, or call in sick because of the stress
  • Creating pressure from being the sole provider for your family if your spouse or partner is not able to work
  • Creating pressure to keep working, even though retirement may have been approaching

It's a good idea to learn more about your company's rules and policies related to a family member's illness. See if there are any support programs for employees. Many companies have employee assistance programs with work-life counselors for you to talk to. Some companies have eldercare policies or other employee benefit programs that can help support you. Your employer may let you use your paid sick leave to take care of your loved one. Or they may let you take leave without pay.

If your employer doesn't have any policies in place, you could try to arrange something informally. Examples include flex-time, shift-exchanging, adjusting your schedule, or telecommuting as needed.

The Family and Medical Leave Act may apply to your situation. Covered employers must give eligible employees up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. Visit www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm for more information. For sources of support, see the Resources section.

Looking at Living Arrangements

Sometimes treatment raises questions about living arrangements. When making these decisions, you should ask:

  • What kind of help does your loved one need and for how long?
  • Could you remodel the house or move to a smaller or different one?
  • Is it risky for your loved one to be home alone?

You'll also need to consider how your loved one feels. She may fear:

  • Losing her independence
  • Being seen as weak or a burden to you and others
  • Moving to a health care or other type of assisted living facility

These are tough issues. Sometimes it's easier to consider a change in living arrangements when the advice comes from a health care professional. Social workers, doctors, nurses, home care providers, and agencies that work with older adults may be able to help you talk to your loved one.

Preparing Advance Directives

"My husband and I sat down together as he filled out his living will. We made sure we were in agreement with one another. It relieves me of a lot of guilt I could have had." - Alma

If you have not done so already, it's important to start talking with your loved one about advance directives. Advance directives are legal papers that tell the doctors what to do if your loved one can't tell them himself. The papers let the patient decide ahead of time how he wants to be treated, stating his wishes for care. These decisions can seem overwhelming. But patients should keep in mind that avoiding these decisions when they are well will only place a heavier burden on them and their loved ones later on. Even if your loved one has a good prognosis, he should fill out advance directives. These may include a living will and a durable power of attorney.

Legal Papers At-A-Glance

Advance directives

  • A living will lets people know what kind of medical care patients want if they are unable to speak for themselves.
  • A durable power of attorney for health care names a person to make medical decisions for a patient if he or she can't make them. This person, chosen by the patient, is called a health care proxy.

Other legal papers that are not part of the advance directives

  • A will tells how a person wants to divide money and property among his or her heirs. (Heirs are usually the surviving family members. Other people may also be named as heirs in a will.)
  • Power of attorney appoints a person to make financial decisions for the patient when he or she can't make them.
Note: A lawyer does not always need to be present when you fill out these papers. However, a notary public may be needed. Each state has its own laws about advance directives. Check with a lawyer or social worker about the laws in your state. (For more, see the Resources section.)