First and foremost for the caregives- being there is the most important thing. You can't fix this or change it but you can help guide them through and especially the tough times. I really like the site: www.caringbridge.org as it can be very useful for all the ones mentioned above. You can go onto this site as a patient and put what you want people to know about what is happening with you rather than trying to field dozens of phone calls which are well meaning but exhausting. I know during my treatment time that with five kids and family needing updated that I could have really used the site. In addition to that the the family and friends can go on the site and get the information but also can leave a message back to you. It is also a way to coordinate rides, food, household help, errands or whatever falls into the needs categories. I love chicken but if someone brought me chicken 6 out of 7 days a week I would not probably be eating it. It can also help to get rides lined up if needed or errands or who can come and sit with the patient for a much needed break by the caregiver.
Now the next thing is one that is often hard not to do and that is trying to fix what is happening. YOU need to just listen and acknowledge what the patient is saying. Don't tell the patient well you only have 8 chemo's left, trust me- they know how many are left or you are halfway through your radiation or I know someone who really didn't do well with the treatment. The patients needs to be heard and also back to my original- Just Listen. That can be an awkward practice for many and if the silence drags on you can always rephrase back to the patient what they had just said as a means of clarification or opening up the conversation. EX: Pt says: I am just so mad about all of this. Your response: So you are saying you are mad about this?
(Trust me, I know it seems awkward but it does work and it will continue the conversation).
Be present and know the patient's limits, maybe today they want out of the house and /or want to go shopping but 20 minutes into the ride you can see that it is more than can be handled for today. Time to turn around and reschedule when they are better ready for it. Offer to take notes at their next appointment so they can just listen to what the doctor is saying, drive them to their appointment, make the bed for them, run the vacuum, take the dog for a walk. Don't just ask what you can do as they will probably will say nothing but instead jump in a do what you see needs done.
One of the programs offerred here by the AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY is called Look Good, Feel Better and it is a free program for women in treatment and it is a free, two hour class that gives the patient make up and shows you how to apply it including if you loose your eyebrows and it also talks about wigs, and care of wigs and scarves and knowing that if you look good, you do feel better.
Also advise the patient to ask to see the financial counselor, case worker, or social worker that can help the patient navigate the issues that crop up during treatment. Keep in mind that it might be a good time for the patient to talk to a counselor and there is nothing to be ashamed of as this is a difficult time. Support groups are around too and you can encourage the patient to attend these as you will find others that truly understand what you are going through as they are facing the same kinds of issues.
Now the last of what I have to offer is LAUGHTER. Yes you heard me, and it seems inappropriate when a person is facing such difficult times but you have to continue to live and find what is good in each day and of course find and make the laughter part of your day. Know that you are loved and you can share your love and show your love... making the best of each day...S