Head & Neck

Tips for Caregivers

You have a unique role in caring for a loved one who has a head or neck cancer. Treatments to this area of the body often have an impact on a person’s ability to eat, swallow, chew, breathe or speak. Some surgeries can disfigure the face, leaving emotional as well as physical scars. These treatments can seriously affect your loved one’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. They may need your help with some basic functions as well as emotional support:

  • Manage diet. Treatments for cancer of the mouth or throat can make it difficult to eat. Prepare foods that are easy to swallow by pureeing or blending food or serve soft foods such as mashed potatoes, soups, cottage cheese, custards, macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, protein shakes and well-cooked vegetables. Avoid sharp, crunchy foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Prepare a diet rich in phytochemicals, such as fruits, vegetables and tea, to help build the immune system. Ask about nutritional supplements, and consult a dietician.
  • Make eye contact. Your loved one may have undergone treatment that has scarred the face and will notice if you stop making eye contact. Try to keep eye contact to let your loved one know you still see him or her as the same person.
  • Communicate. Share patient updates by phone, e-mail or another social media tool to relieve you and your loved one of having to repeat the same story multiple times. Communicating in this way also ensures that everyone hears a consistent message.
  • Manage information. Bring a list of your loved one’s medications, allergies, past treatments, doctors and consultants, current physical and mental state and an advance directive to doctor’s visits. Write down questions that you or your loved one have and bring them to the visit. Take notes at these visits to help your loved one remember all of the details.
  • Organize. Set up a system to manage bills, research, insurance correspondence and medical forms for your loved one. Use a large wall calendar or set up an electronic calendar to keep track of appointments and medication schedules.
  • Drive. Offer an extended block of time to your loved one so that you have plenty of time to help him or her get to doctor’s visits or do other errands.
  • Clean. Coordinate housework to happen while you are at doctors’ visits, or set aside a block of time to help do the house chores. The most important time for extra cleaning will be when your loved one is receiving chemotherapy, if that is part of their treatments.
  • Cook. Prepare meals for your loved one. Not the best cook? Order in. Be sure to ask about special diet needs before planning your menu. Ask if there is a meal schedule or if you can create one to avoid duplication. If more than one friend is interested in cooking, ask someone to create a meal schedule.
  • Shop. This activity can be stressful and overwhelming for your loved one who may not be feeling well. Plan trips in advance to relieve the stress of shopping, or volunteer to shop. Ordering online whenever possible is one of the best ways to preserve valuable time and energy for both of you.
  • Exercise. Your loved one may feel too tired to exercise after treatments, but rehabilitation is important. Consider suggesting a walk or going for a ride to get out of the home.
  • Assist with legal issues. Help your loved one set up or find resources for long-term medical directives. Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also known as a healthcare agent or proxy, is a person who is appointed to make decisions about medical care if your loved one cannot. Help find resources for or set up an Advance Medical Directive to determine what level of medical treatment and care your loved one wants if he or she becomes unable to make that decision. These resources include a Living Will.
  • Promote safety. Reduce clutter in the home, use night lights and put a sticker on the phone with an emergency number to call. Consider medical identification jewelry.
  • Care for kids. Help your loved one enjoy some downtime by entertaining the kids. Your activity doesn’t have to be costly — an afternoon at the park, in the library or at your house is fine. If your loved one prefers not to be left alone, offer to come over and entertain the kids at home. Recognize too that young children may feel worried or confused about why their parent is ill and needs help. They may not have brought this up to either of their parents but might mention it to you. Be prepared for such a discussion by being honest while supportive and dispel any concerns that a child may have regarding the child having caused their parent to become ill.
  • Care for teens. It’s true, teens don’t require much care per se. But, they are teens and need to be treated as teens. Commonly when a parent is ill, for whatever reason, the teen is thrust into assuming a lot of adult responsibilities—cooking, cleaning, babysitting more, not being able to go out with their friends on weekends due to having to assume additional responsibilities. Step in and make sure that teens still get to be teens, and that when they are helping out, they too need to be rewarded for pitching in. Give them an opportunity to communicate with you so they can tell you their concerns and feelings.
  • Care for pets. If a loved one has pets, consider boarding them if the person will be away from home for an extended time. Take the dog for a walk or to the dog park. Pet treats and toys are always a nice surprise.
  • Handle outdoor chores. Mow the lawn, trim the hedges or shovel snow while your loved one is going through treatment, or find a service that will handle these chores.
  • Support. Help find a local support group or other survivors who are going through a similar journey.
  • Socialize. Invite a friend over to do or talk about something with your loved one that is completely unrelated to cancer. Both you and your loved one will enjoy the break.


Previous Next


Register Now! Sign Up For Our Free E-Newletter!

Read Inspiring Cancer Survivor Stories

Order Your Guides Here