Embracing your role

As a friend or family member taking on the very important role of caregiver, you are embarking on what may be an unfamiliar path. Many resources exist to guide you, but every patient is different so know that your loved one's needs can be unique. Whether you are helping your husband, brother, father or friend, together you will learn what works best for your situation.

Knowing what is ahead will help you prepare for your new role. As a caregiver, you will have several responsibilities, such as the following.

  • Adviser. If you’re like most caregivers, you don’t have formal medical experience, but you may be called on to assist in making health care decisions. Sometimes you will act as a sounding board, helping your loved one weigh pros and cons. Learn as much as you can about prostate cancer, its treatments and side effects to ensure you can provide an educated opinion.
    [TIP] See Advocacy & Assistance here for a list of resources.

  • Advocate. Accompanying your loved one to his medical appointments is helpful for a number of reasons. You are a second set of eyes and ears and can ensure that he understands the information and follow-up instructions. Your close relationship with the patient also makes you a valuable resource for the doctor and vice versa. Ask questions to make sure you are both comfortable with the current treatment plan, and investigate clinical trials and new treatment options that may be available.
    [TIP] Keep a list of questions to take to appointments, and be sure to take notes during the appointments for reference later.

  • Alarm clock. Taking medication on time can help a treatment plan be successful. Remind the patient when it’s time for his next dose.
    [TIP] Keep a list of all medications the patient takes, including dose and schedule.

  • Cheerleader. Along with the physical challenges that accompany prostate cancer, treatment can bring with it a host of emotional side effects. Maintaining a positive attitude is always helpful and can be contagious. Some people thrive on ongoing, enthusiastic encouragement; others prefer a more low-key optimism. You’ll soon discover the type of support your loved one needs.
    [TIP] There’s a big difference between merely surviving treatment and living a happy and healthy life during treatment, so stay in tune with your loved one’s feelings.

  • Companion. As you take on new roles, the role of companion stays the same. The man you’re helping care for is still the same man he was before his diagnosis. Spend time doing the same things you did together before his diagnosis, such as watching a favorite TV show or preparing meals.
    [TIP] Accompany the patient to his appointments. Yes, you’re there as an advocate, but you’re also there to keep him company and help pass the time during treatment sessions.

  • Cook. Eating healthy, balanced meals every day is important for both of you. Keep healthy snacks on hand, and prepare and freeze dishes for those days when it is not convenient to cook.
    [TIP] Friends and family often offer to bring over food. Be prepared to accept those offers with very specific requests, such as, “Thank you for offering to bring dinner this week. Wednesday around 5:30 p.m. would be perfect!”

  • Driver. Your loved one may not be capable of or feel up to driving, so you might provide transportation to treatments and medical appointments, along with running general errands.
    [TIP] Make sure the vehicle you’re using is safe and reliable, and insist that all passengers use safety belts.

  • Entertainment director. So much of your loved one’s life will be centered on cancer treatment, but it shouldn’t be all-consuming. Schedule something fun. Organize visits from friends, encourage him to keep up with his hobbies or suggest new ones.
    [TIP] While he is enjoying his activity, take the opportunity to do the same. Remember, you don’t have to do everything together. Taking a break is a great way for you both to reenergize and refresh.

  • Housekeeper. Your loved one will feel better when he has clean laundry and is living in a clean environment.
    [TIP] Try to keep up with the surface cleaning, and if it's an option, hire a cleaning service for the occasional deep cleaning.

  • Personal assistant. You’ll likely be called on to help organize the bills, appointments, insurance forms and other administrative items.
    [TIP] Develop an online or paper filing system that allows you to stay organized.

Caring with confidence

Performing these and other activities is challenging, and you may feel frustrated or angry at times. Feeling and expressing those emotions is healthy until they start to drag you down. Always remember:

  1. Be flexible. Cancer is unpredictable, so you must be willing to roll with the punches. Once you get into a rhythm, your loved one’s needs could change as a result of treatments, side effects or a number of other reasons, requiring you to completely change the way you’ve been doing something. Assume that this comes with the territory, and you won’t be too disappointed.
  2. Maintain your sense of humor. Nothing lightens the mood like laughter. Humorous books and movies are enjoyable escapes. Don’t have a long attention span? Online video clips are good for a quick smile.
  3. You’re not alone. You are not responsible for carrying out all these tasks on your own. Surround yourself with a support system, and learn to delegate (click here). 
  4. Mistakes may happen. You’re human. If you feel you made an error in judgment or could have done something better, don’t get rattled. You always have your loved one’s best interests in mind, so learn from it and decide how you’ll approach a similar situation in the future.
  5. You have many successes. Large and small, they happen every day, and it is important to remember how much you are helping your loved one through this difficult experience. 

Family and Medical Leave Act – Could FMLA work for you?

Cancer rearranges your life, in more ways than one. Performing caregiver duties can derail your professional life. Unexpected and unexcused absences, the inability to focus and an overall decline in performance can put your job and finances in jeopardy. On top of that, you may feel a tremendous amount of guilt about worrying about what feels unimportant when compared with a battle with cancer. Fortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 was designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities. It allows them to take reasonable unpaid leave for family and medical reasons, including cancer treatment for patients and their caregivers.

FMLA includes these key features:

  • 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for eligible employees
  • Consecutive leave or leave in short blocks of time, such as two days for chemotherapy and the following day when you’re too fatigued to work, or a reduced work schedule
  • A job (although not necessarily the same job) to return to after the leave
  • Uninterrupted group health insurance on the same terms as before your leave

Don’t let cancer take over your life. Find out if you are eligible for FMLA benefits. See the full FMLA Fact Sheet at If you aren’t eligible, don’t lose hope. Your state, your employer or your insurance company may offer similar benefits. This is an area worth exploring.

Additional Resources