Support from a Distance - 5 Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers

January 21, 2015

In the United States, families are often spread all over—sometimes on opposite coasts or in opposite climates. This can present challenges when someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer and everyone can’t be where they want to be at once.

Often, long-distance caregivers may feel guilty for not being there in person, struggle with coordinating support for their loved one or worry about emergency situations. It’s important for these far-away loved ones to remember that they are not alone—In fact, it is estimated that 7 million people in the U.S. are long-distance caregivers. Many of these people are family members of someone with cancer—daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Below are a few tips for supporting your loved one and yourself even when you can’t be there physically.

1. Set up a time to talk to your loved one about what they need and be honest about what you are able to do. After the initial cancer diagnosis, the situation may be very busy and stressful. However, once your loved one has started treatment, it is a good idea to have a conversation with them about their concerns and what they need during this time. Although it may be difficult, it is also important to be honest and realistic about what you are and are not able to do due to distance. That way, you or your loved one can find someone else to help in those ways.

2. Get in touch with people who live near or routinely see your loved one with cancer. One of the greatest worries long-distance caregivers often have is that they won’t know when an emergency situation occurs. Exchange contact information with someone living close to your loved one, such as a family member, friend, doctor or neighbor  who can notify you immediately.

3. Plan for an emergency ahead of time. In addition to creating a plan for being contacted in case of an emergency, it is also important to plan who will be able to help your loved one with short notice in terms of an emergency. This way, both you and your loved one will know that they will have immediate support in case of an emergency, even if you are unable to be there in person.

4. Set up a way for all those supporting your loved one to keep in touch. This can help organize what still needs to be done and prevent your loved one from being inconvenienced by too many people around. This can be done in any way that is convenient for your group—phone calls, email threads, social media, or websites specifically designed for this purpose, such as MyLifeLine.

5. Make sure you care for yourself. All caregivers need to care for themselves as well. It may be easy to forget this when you are a long-distance caregiver because you are not actually seeing your loved one on a regular basis. However, self-care is just as important. Make sure you take time for yourself and realize that it is okay that you are not there in person. You can also call the Cancer Support Helpline anytime for emotional support or refer it to other caregivers in your loved one’s life.

For more information, listen to Cancer Support Community’s radio show on long-distance caregiving and other caregiving resources.