Medical care can include:
- Giving personal care.
- Managing and giving medications.
- Managing side-effects.
- Going to hospital appointments.
- Reporting problems to the medical team.
A carer is an important part of a person’s healthcare team. Carers often have to keep track of tests, treatments and medication, make sure their loved one attends appointments and communicate with doctors and the patient.
Lots of carers feel nervous or overwhelmed about giving this type of care, but there are a couple of things you can do that may help:
Learn about cancer
- Try to learn about your loved one’s cancer, treatments and possible side-effects and symptoms, and get to know some of the medical terms that the doctors and nurses use. Visit our section on cancer types.
- Write down any questions you have and bring them to hospital appointments so you can ask the medical team.
- Call or email our Cancer Nurseline 1800 200 700 if you have any questions, or drop into a Daffodil Centre.
For free booklets on different types of cancers, treatments and side-effects, call our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700, visit a Daffodil Centre, or click here to download or order a copy.
Ask for advice
Ask the hospital doctors, nurses and other relevant healthcare professionals such as the physiotherapist and dietician for advice on how to care for your loved one. Make sure you understand about any medication they need to take (see Managing and giving medication). If they need dressings for wounds, injections or other medical care, the nurses can advise you on what to do or where to go.
If you feel comfortable, the nurses will teach you how to give medical care. If not, they will explain what services are available in the community. For example, the family GP or the community or public health nurse.
Giving personal care
As a carer, you will probably need to look after some of the day-to-day nursing needs of your loved one. For example, you may help them to wash or get dressed.
It’s important to ask your family member or loved one what help they would like. They know best and may not be comfortable with intimate contact. You can also hire a private nurse or carer to give care in your loved one’s home.
Hints and tips: personal care
- Regular washing can help someone feel more comfortable and lift their mood. It may also help prevent infections. If you need help with bathing, talk to the public health or community nurse.
- Suggest that your loved one wears clothing that is easy to put on and take off, such as clothes with elasticated waistbands, front fastenings and slip-on shoes.
- Ask the public health or community nurse or your pharmacist about special devices to help with personal care, such as hair-washing trays.
- Look for mobile services like beauticians, chiropodists and hairdressers. Having a haircut or a beauty treatment may also give your loved one a boost if they can’t get out of the house easily.
- Check with the hospital about suitable creams, shampoos and other products. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can sometimes make skin extra sensitive.
- Tell the public health or community nurse or your GP if your loved one finds it difficult to get to the toilet or to use the toilet. They may be able to arrange equipment to help.
- If your loved one has problems with incontinence, talk to the public health or community nurse about supplies like pads and protective bedding. They may also be able to advise you about seeing a continence adviser.
- If your loved one is spending a lot of time in bed or their balance or mobility is affected by their cancer or the treatment they’ve had, they may be at risk of falling. Ask the GP or public health or community nurse for advice on preventing falls and what to do if your loved one falls. You might hurt yourself or them if you try to lift them.
Managing and giving medications
Often carers help patients with their medication. Your loved one may have a lot of medications to take. Some may need to be taken regularly and others may be taken as they are needed. Here are some tips to help you:
Try to talk to the healthcare team in the hospital so you understand the medication
- What medicines have been prescribed?
- What are they for?
- When should they be taken?
- What is the dose?
- How to take the medicine – With food or drink? On an empty stomach?
- Will there be any side-effects?
- How long should it take to work?
- Is there a risk of interactions – with other medicines, supplements, vitamins, alcohol or foods?
- What if a dose is missed? Is it best to take another one or wait until the next dose is due?
Ask at the hospital for a printout with information about the medicine, which you can take home. You can also ask your local pharmacist about medicines. They can be a great help, especially if your loved one is on a complex medicine regime.
Find a way to keep track of their medicines
For example, a chart so you can write on what pills/medicine they need every day and cross off when each dose has been taken. Or use a weekly pill box, so you can fill it with the pills needed at different times every day.
You could also ask your pharmacist if they can pre-pack medications for you, where tablets are divided into separate compartments for each time of each day.
Make sure you don’t run out of medication
Keep an eye on supplies and take the prescription to the pharmacist in good time.
Ask your pharmacist about registering for the Drugs Payment Scheme
This limits the amount you pay for prescribed medicines and appliances every month. They may also be able to advise you about other benefits such as the Medical Card.
For more information read our booklet The Financial Impact of Cancer.
Keep the receipts for medical costs
If your loved one is having a symptom or side-effect of their treatment, speak to the nurses and doctors in the hospital.
There are medications and other treatments to help with many of the side-effects of treatment. If one treatment doesn’t help, ask if there is something else your loved one can try.
You can also speak to a cancer nurse by calling our Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700 or by visiting a Daffodil Centre or visit our section on treatments and side-effects.
Hints and tips: going to hospital appointments
- Appointments can make the patient very anxious, especially if test results or treatment decisions are going to be discussed. For this reason, try to go to appointments with your family member or loved one.
- Chat to your loved one before the appointment and write down any questions or worries they may have, as well as any of your own.
- Make a note of what the doctor says – this will help you to share information with the rest of the family or friends afterwards.
- Time with the doctor is very important for your loved one and your family. Take your time and make sure you are happy that you have asked all your questions and have all the information you need before you leave.
Reporting problems to the medical team
Find out who’s who
Find out who is on the medical team and what help they can give you. For example consultant, registrar, specialist nurse, occupational therapist, medical social worker, physiotherapist.
Get telephone numbers and email addresses
Keep a record of important names, phone numbers and email addresses. Ask the nurses in the hospital for a phone number or email address in case you need to ask a question between appointments. Also write down who to call if your loved one becomes unwell at home and/or if they need out-of-hours care. Keep the numbers handy so that anyone else caring for your loved one knows where they are.
Don’t be afraid to call
If you’re worried about your loved one’s health or if they’re troubled by a side-effect or symptom, let a member of their care team know.
If your loved one needs to go into hospital urgently…
Make sure they have everything they need for a stay in hospital, including any medicines they are taking (including non-cancer related ones). It may be helpful to have an overnight bag ready.
Let other carers and healthcare professionals know that your loved one is in hospital.
Sharing information and confidentiality
Getting information about the patient
There may be limits on how much information health and social care professionals can share with you about your loved one, especially if you are not a family member.
If the person you care for would like professionals to share information with you, they should let them know. If written permission is needed, ask at the hospital how to go about this, and keep a copy of the document for your own files.
You can ask professionals for general advice. For example, ‘What’s the best way to manage nausea from chemotherapy?’ or, ‘If a patient has a very high temperature, who is the best person to call?’
Sharing information about your loved one
Let your loved one’s healthcare team know that you are their carer.
You can share information about the patient that might be helpful to them, as long as your loved one is happy for you to do this.
For more information
1800 200 700