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Support for Caregivers

Caring for a loved one with cancer can often feel confusing and overwhelming. The supportive oncology team at the University of Chicago Medicine is here to help. We’ve witnessed first-hand the important and vital role that caregivers play in a patient’s treatment team. We are committed to providing you with the information, education, support and services you need to provide emotional and physical care to your loved one, as well as to help yourself through this demanding time. 

Common Concerns of Caregivers

Below is some advice on how to address some common challenges that many caregivers are faced with during and after a loved one’s cancer treatment: 

It can be very difficult to juggle a job and caregiving responsibilities. Being a caregiver to someone with cancer can be time-consuming, and you may need to devote significant time to accompanying your loved one on appointments and providing care and support at home. 

Many employers are understanding, and you may be able to work out a flexible work schedule. Dividing caregiving duties among family and friends is another option. You can also talk to our social workers and/or the American Cancer Society patient navigator who works at UChicago Medicine about arranging help at home or transportation to appointments for your loved one. 

If you do need to take time off from work, it’s important to have a good understanding of your rights and protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under this law, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave over a one-year period to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition. Your employer is required to maintain your group health insurance during your leave. There are some exceptions to this law. For instance, it only applies to companies with 50 or more employees who are located within 75 miles of each other. Plus, you must have worked for your company for at least a year or 1,250 hours over the past year. To learn more about FMLA, you can talk to one of our social workers and/or your employer’s human resources department. 
Cancer can be an overwhelming disease—for caregivers as well as patients. You may feel like you spend most of your time at a clinic or hospital. Even when you’re at home or out to dinner, you may find yourself talking or thinking about cancer.
 
As much as you want to stay on top of everything related to your loved one’s treatment, it is vital to maintain a sense of balance. Try to plan activities for yourself that you enjoy and that make you feel good or help you relax. The American Cancer Society’s Coping Checklist for Caregivers provides some specific ideas for how to take care of yourself. 

In general, try to follow a balanced and nutritious diet. The MyPlate approach, developed by the United States Department of Agriculture, offers easy-to-follow guidelines. Try to include protein (e.g., meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts, legumes) with every meal. Protein helps the body fight infection and build/maintain strength. Otherwise, no special diet needs to be followed unless your loved one’s medical oncology team recommends specific changes. 

If you have any diet questions, you can seek nutrition counseling from our oncology dietitian. This is recommended if your loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms: 

  • Weight loss 
  • Persistent diarrhea, nausea or vomiting 
  • Decreased appetite/oral intake 
  • Problems with feeding tubes 
  • Difficulty chewing/swallowing 
  • Dry mouth

Our oncology dietitian will conduct a thorough nutrition assessment and counsel you and your loved one on how to relieve troubling symptoms and maintain a healthy diet. 

 

Unfortunately, financial stress is becoming a frequent part of the cancer journey for both patients and caregivers. Financial assistance may be available, depending on various factors: 

  • National and local service organizations may be able to offer financial aid to individuals with cancer to help pay for medical bills, medications and treatment-related travel and housing expenses. Our American Cancer Society Navigator and/or social worker can help you identify potential organizations to appeal to for assistance. You might also check out the financial resources compendium from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.   
  • UChicago Medicine has a financial assistance program that provides discounts on medical bills to patients. Our patient financial services staff can help you determine if your loved one qualifies for a discount based on financial need. You can call 773-702-6664 (or toll-free at 1-800-827-0125). 
Try to encourage, but not force, your loved one to talk and share. You might begin by sharing your own feelings of fear, worry and concern. Don’t underestimate the comfort you can provide by being able to listen carefully and with complete attention as your loved one may give voice to their feelings.
 
You can also arrange for counseling for your loved one and/or yourself through our Supportive Oncology office. We offer full psychological and psychiatric services during cancer treatment depending on your insurance.  These services are provided by a multidisciplinary team involving psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.

As a caregiver, try to feel empowered to speak up and address your questions to your loved one’s treatment team during regularly scheduled visits. You may want to prepare and organize your questions prior to the appointment. It can be helpful to make a list of questions and concerns ahead of time that you can refer to during the clinic visit. 

Also, be sure to ask who to contact on the treatment team in the event of an urgent concern in between scheduled visits, as well as how to contact that person (i.e., via phone, text, page).

We encourage you to call us with any questions or concerns at 773-702-8845. You may also stop by the Supportive Oncology office at UChicago Medicine’s Hyde Park campus on the sixth floor of the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine. If you are a patient at Ingalls Memorial, ask your care team about whom to contact for similar services at Ingalls Memorial.

Additional Resources for Caregivers

Caregivers can find a lot of information and support from national and local organizations devoted to helping people with cancer and their loved ones.

The following organizations in the Chicago area offer support groups, social activities, healthy lifestyle activities, exercise sessions, educational workshops and other resources to anyone impacted by cancer, including caregivers:

Caregivers can also find helpful information and advice online. Here are four reputable sources: 

Contact the Supportive Oncology Team

The Supportive Oncology team is available to provide a range of services to cancer patients, caregivers and families, from mental health and nutrition counseling, to answering questions about financial concerns and arranging at-home care. 

Contact Us

The Coleman Foundation Supportive Oncology Outpatient Care Suite 
5758 S. Maryland Ave.
6th Floor, 6F
Chicago, IL 60637

773-702-8845