Improving Communication

Sometimes, patients diagnosed with cancer may find it hard to ask for help or even just talk about their disease. For a caregiver, this can be frustrating. How can you know if the patient is having trouble? Do they have needs or concerns they may not be able to express?

By following these tips, you may be able to better communicate with a cancer patient … and by communicating, show your real concern and care:
  • Be a good listener. Sometimes, all patients need is for someone to simply listen to them.
  • Be comfortable with the patient’s silence. Silence allows individuals to think deeply without interruption, which may help them to express their thoughts and feelings more easily.
  • Never underestimate the power of a warm and loving touch. A touch may communicate more than words can say.
  • Talk to the patient about topics other than cancer. This can help a patient feel more like a normal person.
  • Be specific about the help you can offer. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need help,” be specific about the kind of assistance you can give them. Patients with cancer may not know how to ask for help or know what help is available for them. Being specific with the help you can give sends a message that you are interested and genuine about your offer. Some samples of specific suggestions? Offering to prepare a meal, give a ride to and from appointments, lending a hand with child care…
  • Continue to visit and stay in touch. People with cancer can feel very lonely and isolated. Your presence can be comforting and reassuring and help ease their fears and loneliness.
*Adapted from the American Cancer Society

Asking for Help from Family and Friends

Getting help from family or friends can ease the stress and burdens involved in being a caregiver.  But even if they’re willing to lend help, they may not know how to ask you if you need it. It might not be easy to ask for that help but their support can be invaluable, and they’ll be looking to you for direction on how to give it to you. Some ways of asking for help?
  • Ask family and friends when they are available, and explore what tasks they feel most comfortable doing.
  • Give suggestions or directions about specific tasks they can help with.
  • Be clear with your expectations.
  • Plan ahead and note on a calendar who can be available at certain times to help with caregiving duties.


Talking to Children about a Cancer Diagnosis

It can be daunting to talk with children about cancer when it’s struck one of their loved ones or friends. But it’s important to keep them aware of what’s going on, and informed about what’s involved during the three stages of cancer treatment: diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment.  Helping them understand what’s happening is always preferable to keeping them in the dark.

What are some proven tips on how to talk to children about cancer?
  • Be prepared with the message you want to give the child.
  • Use language appropriate for the age of the child.
  • Let children know of any changes in their schedule or in your schedule.
  • Don’t be afraid to say the word “cancer” as well as the specific type of cancer the patient has.
  • Ask children if they have any questions, and be honest with your answers. If you are uncertain, let children know that you will give them an answer when you find it out.

The City of Hope Child Life Program

Our Child Life Program is designed to address the particular needs of infants, children, teens and families facing a new diagnosis, long term hospitalization and treatment, and can even help them in coping with grief and bereavement:
  • Child Life specialists work at reducing the impact of stressful situations or events which affect children’s emotional, social and developmental needs. Services include providing developmentally-appropriate clinical education about illness, procedures, treatments and the hospital environment (including preparation for visiting a loved one in the hospital or ICU environment).
  • Additionally, Child Life specialists provide therapeutic activities and other methods that encourage expression of feelings, promote optimal coping, growth and development, and otherwise support children and their families through grief and bereavement, working in collaboration with the health care team.
Physician’s orders are required for a Child Life consult. Child Life Services can be reached at 626-256-HOPE (4673), ext. 64513 or ext. 60243.

Talking with Doctors

Accompanying a patient on visits to the doctor is an important part of your role as a caregiver. Being prepared for each visit helps you and the patient get the most out of the appointment, and can ensure you’re leaving the doctor’s office with the information the patient may really need. That, in turn, can ease stress for both you and the patient. Here are some tips to make the most of your visit:
  • Bring a list of concerns and questions. Start with what is most important to you and the patient. Doctors have a limited amount of time to spend with patients and they may not have the time to answer all your questions.
  • Bring paper and pen to take notes. It is easy to forget things when time is limited.
  • Note important details about the condition or treatment plan.
  • Ask the doctor to explain or repeat anything that may be confusing.
  • Bring a calendar or datebook for scheduling future visits.
  • Bring a list of all medications and supplements, prescription and over-the-counter.
  • Ask about any side effects that might occur as a result of treatments or medications.
  • Remember to speak up and ask questions. If you don’t ask, your doctor will assume that you understand everything that was said.


Maintaining a Positive Image

Patients often experience a number of physical changes due to the side effects of cancer treatment, and those changes can impact a patient’s self-image.

When people feel good about the way they look to the world, they typically feel better on the inside. It’s no different for cancer patients: studies have shown how patients who feel positive about the way they look experience a faster rate of recovery than those who do not.

The Positive Image CenterSM at City of Hope can help patients cope with treatment side effects that affect physical appearance. As a caregiver, it can be difficult to help a patient who is having difficulty with body image. So by accompanying your patient to the Positive Image Center, together you can take advantage of a range of techniques designed to help a patient face the world with more confidence and optimism.

Some of the tools and techniques we teach include:
  • The best use of cosmetic and skin-care techniques
  • Alternatives for complete and partial hair loss, including fitting and styling for wigs
  • Optimal use of head-wrap, scarf-tying and hat techniques
  • Postmastectomy fittings and products are available by appointment
The Positive Image Center’s services are offered at no cost. However, patients are charged nominal amounts for the merchandise. To make an appointment for a private consultation, please call 626-301-8874.

Guidebooks for Caregivers


*Adapted from the American Cancer Society & Cancer Care