Support From a Distance: 5 Tips for Long-Distance Caregivers

November 10, 2021
Elderly woman smiles as she talks on the phone

Photo by Ave Calvar on Unsplash

Families and loved ones don’t always live near one another. Being physically distant from a loved one when they have an illness can be a challenging experience. Often, long-distance caregivers may feel guilty for not being there in person. They also may struggle with coordinating support for their loved one or worry about emergency situations. 

A long-distance caregiver is anyone who provides physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, or logistical support to a person with an illness from a distance. If you are a long-distance caregiver to someone with cancer, it’s important to know that there are still ways you can support your loved one from afar.

Here, we share 5 ways to support your loved when you are physically distant.


1. Have an honest conversation.

Talk to your loved one about their needs and how they wish to be supported during this time. Both you and your loved one may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed with everything going on, but it is important to have a conversation with one another about any concerns or needs you both have. Be realistic and honest about what you can and cannot do due to distance. By being upfront from the beginning, you will be able to settle into a routine and find others who can provide support in the areas where you aren’t able to help.

Listen to our radio show on long-distance caregiving


2. Create a routine for yourself and with others near your loved one.

Once you have a conversation, you can set a routine for when you will call, send reminders or updates, or attend appointments with your loved one virtually if that is an option. It is also important to get in touch with people near your loved one who can serve as a support person in case an emergency or other immediate needs arise. Exchange contact information with a family member, friend, doctor, or neighbor who can help support your loved one in person and notify you if an emergency occurs.

3. Use technology to keep in touch.

Technology is constantly advancing. Knowing what is available to you can help you stay connected with your loved one. Through phone calls and video calls, you can have regular check-ins and possibly attend your loved one’s appointments to answer questions and take notes. You can even find options for your loved one to attend doctor’s appointments from home if it is difficult for other caregivers to take them to appointments in person. Telehealth services are medical care services that are provided to patients from their doctors over a computer, smartphone, tablet, or via the telephone.

Another useful tool for caregivers is MyLifeLine, the Cancer Support Community’s free digital support community for people impacted by cancer. By creating your own personal site on MyLifeLine, you can keep family and friends up to date on your loved one’s cancer journey. You can also organize volunteers to help with rides to your loved one’s medical appointments, meals, childcare, and more through the site’s Helping Calendar without contacting people individually.         

A woman comfortingly holds a man's hands in her hands

4. Be informed and organized.

Although you can’t be there with your loved one every day, you can support them by researching his or her cancer type and things like medical center options, treatment options, and how to cope with treatment side effects. You can also keep track of your loved one’s finances, health insurance documents, medical bills, and other important logistics.

Get tips to help your loved one make treatment decisions


5. Practice self-care.

All caregivers must care for themselves too. It can be easy to forget this when you are a long-distance caregiver because you are not seeing your loved one on a regular basis. However, by taking time for yourself, you will be able to care for others even better. Realize that it is okay you are not there in person and that supporting your loved one from a distance can be just as effective. You can contact our Cancer Support Helpline anytime for support. Our Helpline offers free navigation for cancer patients and their loved ones by phone and online via our chat service.

There are many important things to remember as a long-distance caregiver, but know you are not in it alone. There are many people like you who are trying to be the best support person they can be for their loved one with cancer. A cancer diagnosis can be traumatic for both the patient and his or her family. Long-distance caregivers can play a vital role in providing comfort, hope, and support.

Explore our other resources on long-distance caregiving