The Challenges of Long-Distance Cancer Caregiving

Community // November 21, 2016

This post is part of our series on caregiving for National Family Caregivers Month in November. Check out our previous post on caregiving tips from caregivers.

For many individuals who have mesothelioma or other forms of cancer, family members often step in as caregivers, helping with everything from making sure they get to appointments on time to assisting with daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and bathing.

However, when family members live far apart from each other, the ability to provide care directly can be impeded significantly. Family members who live close to the relative with cancer may feel like they are bearing more responsibility than they can handle, while those who live further away may feel guilty about not being near enough to help out as much. Dealing with the emotional impacts of long-distance caregiving is as important as dealing with the practical issues the situation presents.

In light of this problem, we asked some caregiving coaches and experts for suggestions to help families who find themselves in this predicament.

Pay for Things You Can’t Do

Instead of spending lots of money traveling back and forth to help out in person, that money might be put to better use hiring others to take care of thing that you can’t. This can include anything from licensed medical help, such as a visiting or live-in nurse, or other services to help with upkeep around the home.

Peter Rosenberger from Caregivers with Hope says that one of the best ways long-distance caregivers can help out is by helping to pay for services that might otherwise be left up to the cancer patient or nearby relatives. “Contract with a reputable service to spare the person closest,” he told the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. “Pay for other services as well, such as gutter cleaning, lawn care, housekeeping, carpet cleaning, picking up groceries, etc.”

Of course, when doing these things, it’s important to be both careful and creative. There are plenty of ways to schedule some services, like food delivery or housecleaning, online. You can also connect with the cancer patient’s neighbors to see if they might be willing to help out on a regular basis. Whatever the case, make sure to check online review sites, like Angie’s List or Yelp, to find service providers with good reputations. And it never hurts to ask for a discount!

Research Can Be Done from Anywhere

In a lot of cases, when someone is diagnosed with cancer, they probably don’t know much about the specific form of the disease that they have. In such cases, family members often help out by researching treatment options, cancer clinics, and other topics related to the new diagnosis.

Dr. Marni Amsellem, a clinical psychologist who works with cancer patients and caregivers and also consults for several national caregiver organizations, notes that this kind of research can be done from anyplace where you have an internet connection and a phone. “Reading up on treatment options, side effects, or the diagnosis is something that anyone can do, regardless of location,” Dr. Amsellem told the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center. “All family members can contribute to discussions about treatment-related concerns, no matter where they live.”

In fact, Dr. Amsellem says, those family members who are away from the day-to-day struggles being experienced by the cancer patient and their nearby relatives may actually be in a better position to sort through and absorb the information. Having done that, they can distill the details down for their loved ones. “Perhaps those not in the trenches, so to speak, may have more time to read and research things on their own,” she adds, “such as looking into treatment or supportive care options, financial assistance, or whatever else could be useful for the local caregivers or patients.”

Embrace Technology to Stay in Touch

Of course, one of the reasons why long-distance caregiving is so difficult is that families want to be able to be near each other to stay connected mentally and emotionally. It’s often hard to maintain a close relationship when you are far away from someone, no matter how much you want to keep in touch.

This is where technology steps in. Apps like Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, and others offer a convenient way to videochat with loved ones, so that you can see and hear them just as though you were having a conversation in the same room. “Technology has helped to minimize the physical distance in our world,” Dr. Amsellem says, “and the same carries over to caregiving. While a physical visit from a relative living far away may be unrealistic, an internet or phone-based ‘visit’ certainly is.”

The key is creating a schedule that works for everyone, so you can make sure you are keeping in regular contact. However, it’s also important to make sure that the family members who are far away stay flexible, since cancer patients may not always feel up to the task of a conversation.

What Are Your Long-Distance Caregiving Challenges?

Providing care to a cancer patient (or survivor) from far away has many other challenges. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a caregiver who lives far away? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!