Managing Cancer-Related Distress for Patients and Caregivers


This is a sponsored post with Med-IQ. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals.

We are all far too familiar with “The big C” or “the c-word” with the whisper-like tone that seems to accompany it whenever it strikes our family or friends. Everyone has been impacted in some way by cancer. My truth is that I refer to cancer with disdain, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it. In fact, I actually believe communicating about cancer can be a powerful tool in disarming some of the fear surrounding cancer-related distress for patients and caregivers. It’s one of the main reasons I decided to work and team up with Med-IQ to write this post.

Lending help to generate awareness around distress and anxiety for patients and caregivers is a passion of mine as a registered nurse and as a primary caregiver. My very first job out of nursing school was at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on the pediatric oncology 9th floor. My dad was on the 11th floor undergoing an autologous stem-cell transplant at the same time and I’d work a 12-hour shift and then go see him. Later on that same year, I left my position to care for my dad and became his hospice nurse until he peacefully passed away at our home.

My goal is not to focus on the distress that we all know cancer causes, but to acknowledge it and offer suggestions. Perhaps we can help manage cancer-related distress for patients and caregivers by discussing, understanding, empowering ourselves, and extracting tension out of it through open communication.

Acknowledging Cancer-Related Distress

Distress is an unpleasant feeling or emotion that impacts the quality of life of patients and caregivers, how they interact with others, and how they cope with cancer.

My father and I often discussed his worries and concerns privately together when he was undergoing treatment for mantle-cell lymphoma. His concerns were common and rarely about himself. He was concerned mostly about my mother and how she’d manage their home and being on her own. As a caregiver and as a nurse, I provided reassurance, but when there was little of that to offer, I would just listen, or sit and hold his hand. Physical touch has a way of filling space when there are no words.

Symptoms of Cancer-Related Distress

• Sadness

• Hopelessness

• Uncertainty

• Guilt

• Anger

• Anxiety, feelings of panic, depression

• Isolation and pulling away from many people

• Poor sleep, loss of appetite, difficulty focusing

Talk To Your Care Team About Distress

I genuinely believe it’s as important to discuss the patient and caregiver distress that is going on as much as it is critical to review treatment protocols. Being on both the caregiving side as well as a nurse on the healthcare side, I have acquired a few of my own personal tips to discuss distress with your care team.

• Appointments with the oncology team can be overwhelming so writing down any questions in advance can help alleviate the burden of having to think in the moment. I nicknamed my family a wolf pack during my father’s cancer care because it was a team effort. One of the best ways to advocate for quality care is through collaboration with your wolf pack.

• Allow the patient an opportunity to ask all their questions followed by the caregiver taking a turn. This may help diffuse and prioritize emotions when they are naturally running high.

• Caregivers can help keep track of side effects and issues that arise during treatment, maintain a list of current medications, and help a patient create a treatment journal.

• What are you most worried about right now? Asking a patient and caregiver this question can help prioritize the concerns and bring everyone back to center to try and focus on the most immediate worry.

Getting Help and Support

The oncology team may have support groups or services specific to the type of cancer being treated. During my father’s treatment, we used email to rally support and created a website to keep friends and family informed.

Recently, I’ve had to rely on my own suggestions as a caregiver. My mother suffered a stroke a few months ago and we’ve created a private Facebook group to keep everyone in the loop. We also created a Sign Up Genius page to coordinate visitors to help keep her company.

I remember feeling moments of anxiousness as my father’s caregiver and nurse like it was yesterday. I worry with my mother’s current health situation and have been tapping into resources when necessary.

Cancer Care is a non-profit resource offering a free hotline and an easy-to-navigate website for patients and caregivers in distress.

For anyone interested in reading about my experience as my father’s hospice nurse, I share more about it on The Huffington Post.


I’d greatly appreciate if you would participate in a survey that includes further education on cancer-related distress (it will take less than 15 minutes). Upon completion of the survey, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win 1 of 10 $100 VISA gift cards. No personal information is kept, sold, or stored in the survey completion process.

Thank you to Med-IQ for helping to raise awareness about patient and caregiver distress. This is a sponsored post by Med-IQ through educational grants from AbbVie, Astellas, and Genentech to write about managing distress for cancer patients and their caregivers. All opinions are my own.

By | 2019-02-08T00:44:56+00:00 February 6th, 2019|Health|0 Comments

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