Long Distance Caregiving of a Friend with Cancer

Long Distance Caregiving of a Friend with Cancer

As if having a friend with cancer isn’t bad enough, right? Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news when I say that it can feel worse. How? you ask.  When you live a bagillion miles away and can’t be with the person you love to support him or her in person. I know. I’ve been in this situation both as a patient and a friend and I’m here to say that it is a rotten feeling!

Personally, I felt fearful and helpless when I was unable to be physically present for my girlfriends who were contending with everything from decision-making to the side effects of chemo. However, as I did throughout the ridiculousness of my treatment, I put on my clinical cap and asked myself: “What would I say to the friend of a patient?”

This clinical compensatory mechanism that I have always produces Silver Linings because I realized that even if you live far away, you can be actively engaged in the physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or logistical support that goes into caregiving. Becoming engaged – well, as engaged as the person with cancer wants you to be – can be helpful to all involved.

Here are some examples of different types of support that a long-distance caregiver can provide:

  • Create a “To Do” list of your friend’s needs and divide the list into immediate needs and long term needs.
  • Gathering cancer treatment and post-treatment information through contacts, internet research and phone calls. The KEY to this is asking if your friend wants this information.  Not everyone (myself included!) wanted other people to do research; however, other people welcome it.  The key with gathering information is to make sure that you do it from legitimate, credible resources. Here is my list of credible cancer resources: http://www.thesilverpen.com/resources/
  • Create a list of important contacts and information for emergencies. Compiling and maintaining an up-to-date list of key phone numbers and email addresses is a humongous Silver Lining. Be sure to include: doctors, pharmacists, case managers, health insurance providers, employers, friend, neighbors, family members, etc.
  • Assist in making and organizing appointments. Oh my gosh, is this ever helpful! Using shared calendars (e.g., Google Calendars) is a helpful way to stay in sync from afar.
  • Facilitate logistical needs with local friends and neighbors. These include everything from transportation to cleaning to grocery shopping and food preparation.
  • Serve as the point person for communication. You could start a blog or use Caring Bridge to keep people apprised of your friend’s status.  The key is to make sure that your friend has editorial review. In other words, don’t write ANYTHING about your friend that s/he hasn’t approved!

The thing to be sure to keep in mind is that everyone’s experience with FBC or any type of cancer for that matter is different.  The experience is ongoing and often unpredictable. Being flexible and consistently present – even from afar – will be the Silver Lining that you can add to your friend’s experience.

Here are a few organizations that can also help:

Do you have any suggestions for what worked (or didn’t) for you?  I’d love to hear from you!

Leave a comment


  1. Carolee Groux says

    I have three out-of-state people that I regularly keep in touch with on their Caring Bridge sites. Colleen, age 31, has stage IV colon cancer. She is the daughter-in-law of an old hometown friend. I have an old classmate, Shirley, who suffered a brain aneurysm, had surgery, and now is in rehab who also has a CB site. I have a cousin, Greg, also in Minn., who is a young man with advanced prostate cancer.
    In Omaha I have two church friends with cancer as well: Sandra with stage 0 breast cancer, and Bill with mesothelioma. Bill's wife keeps the CB site up-dated.
    Caring Bridge is a great way to stay in touch and be supportive without being a bother with repetitive phone calls.

    • silverpen says

      Thanks so much for your note, Carolee. Caring Bridge is indeed fantastic. It is such a Silver Lining for people to be able to stay in touch!

  2. says

    My 2 sisters and brother all live in other states, and during my active treatments (chemo and surgeries) kept in touch almost every other day, just to check in with me and keep my spirits up. They all sent lots of little notes and funny cards, little things to help remind me that they were thinking of me – it meant so much to me to know they were here in spirit. It doesn't take much, just being there emotionally and keeping in touch means a lot when you're going through bc.

    • silverpen says

      Thanks so much for sharing, Claudia. I wholeheartedly agree and am so happy that your sisters and brother supported you! Take good care!