When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, it’s normal to feel at a loss for how you should react and what you can do to help. But when someone you love has cancer, and you live far away from them, it can be even more overwhelming and confusing. The term “long-distance caregiver” is often used to describe anyone who provides some form physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or logistical support to a person with a serious illness, despite living at a distance from the person needing care.
Despite being a long-distance caregiver, you still play a vital role in providing comfort, hope and support. There are several things you can do from a distance to ensure that your loved one has the support they need throughout their cancer journey.
Evaluate the situation. Because you can’t always offer direct support, evaluate the situation to determine what you can actually do to help, whether it’s through phone calls, information gathering or assisting with long-term plans. You can adapt your actions as needs change.
Create an emergency contact list. Since you cannot physically be present to provide direct support, make sure that there is a list of people who can help your loved one when needed. Work with your loved one and local caregivers to create an up-to-date list of phone numbers and email addresses for doctors, pharmacists, case managers, employers, support groups, friends, neighbors and family members. This list will help you to take comfort in knowing your loved one is cared for even when you can’t be there and will help lighten the load for other caregivers.
Learn how to manage negative emotions. It’s common have feelings such as guilt, sadness or anger when there’s a difference between the care you would like to provide (like being able to be with your loved one during treatment and other important moments) and the real demands of your life, such as work or family commitments. Some ways to avoid allowing these emotions to cloud your decisions include admitting your feelings, finding someone else who can help your loved one, planning a future to be with your loved one and taking time to care for yourself.
Provide special care when visiting. When you do get a chance to visit your loved one, it is helpful to be prepared. Sometimes the purpose of the visit could be to provide company and emotional support, while other times it may include taking part in important meetings or decisions. Maintaining open and honest communication about when you can and cannot visit and what you can and cannot accomplish during visits can help you to have a smooth and enjoyable time with your loved one.
Use your resources. There are many resources available to your loved one as someone living with a cancer diagnosis, and to you as a long-distance caregiver that can make your journey easier. Resources range from emotional support to educational support to financial support. Don’t hesitate to use any of these resources to help ease the burden on yourself and your loved one.
Acting as a long-distance caregiver can be a very complex and unique situation, but you’re not alone. If you or your loved one ever has questions or feels overwhelmed contact the Cancer Support Helpline Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-8p.m. For more helpful tips check out Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Long Distance Caregiving