Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My wife was diagnosed with cancer, and we have two young children at home. How do we explain her illness to them?

A: With young children, there may be a temptation to avoid discussing serious illnesses like cancer. You may not want to burden your children with all the complex worries of the disease. But the best thing you can do for them is to give them accurate, age-appropriate information about cancer. Don’t be afraid to use the word “cancer” and tell them where it is in the body. If children don’t get this information from their parents, they will often invent their own explanations, which often can be more frightening than the reality. For example, children may think that they did something wrong to cause the cancer.

It’s helpful to explain the treatment plan and what this will mean to them. For instance, “Dad will bring you to soccer practice instead of Mom.” Prepare your children for any physical changes you might encounter in treatment. Remember that whatever emotions your children are experiencing are normal, and they should be encouraged to express and share these emotions with you and other trusted adults.

CancerCare’s specialized services for children affected by cancer help parents and children cope with the effects of cancer on the family.

Q: I know I’m supposed to eat well during treatment, but the chemotherapy makes me feel nauseated, and I don’t have an appetite. What can I do?

A: Nausea is a common side effect in cancer treatment, but it can be managed with the help of your doctor and anti-nausea medications. Also, there are some things you can do on your own to get relief:

  • Avoid strong food odors, which can bring on nausea.
  • Rinse your mouth often to eliminate any bad taste.
  • Explore how your taste buds may have changed.
  • Determine what foods taste good to you now.
  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.
  • Distract yourself with music, television or other activities you enjoy.

Q: I am a single person living alone, and I’m worried that when I start treatment, I won’t have the strength to perform basic tasks, like cooking or dressing. I have friends, but they all have their own busy lives. How do I get help?

A: For people with cancer who are living alone, daily chores and tasks can be especially burdensome. Perhaps you don’t want to “bother” your friends or ask them to do simple tasks because it makes you feel helpless—but most of the time, friends are looking for a way to contribute to your care, even if they can’t be there all the time. Try appointing one friend to be your primary caregiver and have that person organize help from your other friends. Together, they can work as a team to bring your meals, do your laundry or water the lawn. Having a specific task allows each friend to feel they are helping you in a meaningful way.

Home care assistance is also available through your hospital, nonprofit agencies, and private organizations. Many times, home care costs are covered by insurance, if the care involves administering medical treatment. See our list of resources for home care at the end of this booklet.

Q: I’m a caregiver and will need to take time off from my job to care for my loved one. Things are tough enough as it is, and with more medical costs, I’m afraid of being fired and losing income. What rights do I have in the workplace?

A: The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) gives you the right to take time off if you are ill or caring for an ill dependent without losing your job. This law:

  • Applies to employers with 50 or more employees.
  • Can be used to provide medical leave for people with illness such as cancer or family leave for caregivers.
  • Provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious illness. You don’t have to take the 12 weeks all at once; you can take time in blocks, such as several hours a day.
  • Allows you to use accrued paid annual leave or possibly accrued sick leave during your family or medical leave.
  • Defines family members as your parent, child (including adult children who are unable to care for themselves) or your spouse.
  • Allows your employer to request a medical certification by a doctor or other health care provider.

To learn more about the FMLA, talk to your department of human resources or see our list of resources at the end of this booklet.

Q: My husband was just diagnosed with metastatic cancer. We’re told that he has become more advanced and we don’t know what to do. Should we go for the most aggressive treatment or seek end-of-life care?

A: It is important that you and your family make the decision that is right for you. Honoring our choices and wishes either at the end-of-life or whether we decide to undergo treatment can help us cope. Facing our mortality and trying to decide whether or not end-of-life care is the best thing for us can be one of the most difficult decisions to make in our lives. A reaction people may harbor is to first try everything that is medically possible.

As with any major treatment decisions, patients and family members can experience a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty. This is normal and to be expected. Nobody likes to think or talk about end-of-life concerns, yet studies have shown that open communication between you, your loved ones and your health care team reduces distress, helps to alleviate burden of having to make the decision alone and strengthens our capacity to cope.

The focus of end-of-life care is on comfort and the person’s quality of life. End-of life care centers on managing the person’s physical, emotional and spiritual well being during this period. End-of-life care not only addresses issues surrounding pain management but affords emotional and spiritual support as well. Opting for end-of-life care does not mean that you’ve “given up,” but instead are embracing the inevitability of death. It is a decision the focuses on quality of a person’s life at the end of life. End-of-life care also gives the person with cancer and family members an opportunity to reconcile and reflect on some of the memories, feelings of sadness and an array of complex emotions may emerge during this time together.