Ask Jai – Advice for Caregivers

October 2011

Dear Jai:

My wife has pancreatic cancer. Her visitors are coming less and less. What can I do?

Kevin

Kevin,

First, it’s time to rally the troops and give your wife’s friends and family members a pep talk about the important role they play in her life. Battling a life-threatening illness, enduring pain from cancer and its treatments, and facing the threat of dying might make people want close friends and family nearby to make them feel safe, loved, and not alone. Your friends need to know how much you and your wife need them to be a part of her daily life at this time. People may not realize the positive impact of their attention and energy, even if all they do is simply sit with the cancer patient watching television for an hour. Your wife benefits from their company, so make sure to communicate your and your wife’s needs to the loving group of people who surround you. Give them feedback on what is helpful and not helpful to your wife as she goes through different stages of cancer treatment. Open communication will be helpful to all involved.

Please also be sensitive to how your wife’s cancer battle might be impacting your friends and loved ones. We can see how cancer directly affects the patient—from weight loss to hair loss to other unseen changes—but loved ones are hurt by the cancer experience as well. Cancer’s devastating effects are like a cluster bomb. Though one person’s body is affected directly, the indirect effect of watching that person change as a result of their struggle can also be emotionally overwhelming to people. A palliative care doctor once told me that the experience of watching a loved one suffer from cancer took an extraordinary toll on the patient’s loved ones. It might be that your friends are having difficulty coping with the pain they feel watching your wife walk this difficult path. Perhaps giving your friends the opportunity to talk about how their journey is being shaped by your wife’s cancer would be helpful.

Good luck to you; I will hold you, your wife, and your friends in my thoughts and prayers.

Jai