Care for Caregivers

Caregivers may be spouses, partners, family members, or close friends who give the person with cancer physical and emotional care. Giving care can mean helping with daily needs.  This can include making meals, arranging and transporting to doctor visits, and helping with bathing and dressing.  It can also mean helping your loved one to cope with feelings.

As a caregiver, you may be glad to put the well-being of the person with cancer above your own well-being.  When giving care, it is normal to put your own feelings and needs aside, but you need to take care of yourself too.  If you don’t, you may not be able to care for others.

There are many causes of stress in cancer caregivers.   Everyone has emotional ups and downs, but early attention to symptoms of depression can make a big difference in how the caregiver feels about their role and how well they can do the things they need to do.  There are ways to help reduce stress which may help prevent serious depression.

Tips for a strong patient and caregiver team:

  • Support one another, even though only one person is ill.
  • Communicate openly.
  • Share worries and concerns.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle as much as possible.
  • Continue enjoyable activities.
  • Ask questions to understand and manage symptoms.
  • Help one another cope.

The FOCUS Support Program is an Ann Arbor area support group held at the Cancer Support Community.  It is a free six-week program for cancer patients and caregivers to lean about how to live through and beyond cancer.  The program is unique in that it addresses caregiver concerns and how patients and loved ones can work as a team to manage and cope with the illness.  If you are interested in participating, contact the Cancer Support Community at 734-975-2500.

If you were/are a caregiver, what worked for you?  Please feel free to leave a comment.


Managing Emotions – Finding Strength in Others

Caring For Your Own:  Skills Lab empowers families to be partners in cancer treatment

Family Caregiver Alliance

Talking to Children About Cancer

Parents confronting cancer often ask how to talk with children about their illness and wonder if conversations will be too difficult. Even in our attempts to shield children, they are sensitive to changes in the family and create fantasies for what they do not understand. These misconceptions can challenge a family’s abilities to cope and bond together. Honest conversations about a loved one’s illness foster trust and opportunities for children to understand, express feelings and ask questions.

When talking with children, it is important to plan for the discussion. Developmentally based, simple and factual explanations, without overwhelming details, help children learn about a loved one’s illness. Parents are encouraged to use the word “cancer” and let children know where in the body the cancer is located.

The choice of words in explaining cancer is linked to the developmental levels of children and their abilities to understand. For example, a young school age child can be told that the body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Cells usually grow in healthy ways and have certain jobs to do inside of our bodies. Sometimes cells get confused, grow in unhealthy ways and make it difficult for other cells to do their important jobs. This is what happens when someone has cancer. Children can be assured that nothing they said or did caused the illness and cancer is not a contagious illness like the flu or a cold.

While parents may worry about becoming somewhat tearful or sad during the conversation, these expressions can demonstrate to children that having a range of feelings is normal and others share these feelings. Uncontrollable displays of emotion by adults make it difficult for children to feel safe and supported during the conversation. Continue reading

A Mother, A Fighter, The Rose Run

By Jessica Cribbs

This is Jessica’s story of why she has been organizing the Rose Run for the past four years. The run this year benefits the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Breast Oncology Program and Patient and Family Support Services.


On March 5, 2008, two little children were dancing around my feet when the phone rang. It was my mother’s voice on the other end.

The Rose Run is named in honor of Rose Marie Hunt.

I had been living in California for the past 5 years, and she was back home in Michigan. We talked often, but it was different this time. She was short, and to the point.

“Jess. The cancer came back.”

It took me a minute to register what she  just said, but it did not entirely take me by surprise. She had defeated cancer once already, in her early 40’s. She had been having regular back pain for months, which she had attributed to a fall on the ice earlier in the winter. However, she also seemed to be frequently ill. More frequent than a 50-some-year-old woman should be.

“What do you mean the cancer came back?” I asked, knowing that was impossible for her to answer.

“It’s not good, Jessie. The cancer is everywhere this time. It’s metastasized.” She went on to explain how she saw her scans and she looked like a lit-up Christmas tree spotted with tumors.

Our conversation was long that morning with many moments of silence – moments where all I could do was stare at the dining room table. I even asked her if she thought this was going to take her.

“I think so,” she calmly replied. Continue reading

Talking to Children About Your Cancer

A child’s world is disrupted when family resources are mobilized towards battling a parent’s cancer, and children can become confused or scared during the process. An area of concern and need for patients who are also parents is how to break the news of a cancer diagnosis and treatment to children in a way that is age-appropriate, informative, and most importantly, won’t generate undue amounts of stress in children.

One way that parents and families stay connected during the cancer treatment journey is through the resources at The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Patient Education Resource Center (PERC), a full-service library containing books and brochures on cancer, caregiving, coping and survivorship topics. The PERC has a number of resources available for parents explaining a cancer diagnosis to children.

The books on this comprehensive, age-specific and development-specific list are available through the PERC and can be found at your local library, Barnes and Noble or on If you can’t come to the PERC in person, click on the link to the book to display the closest libraries that have the book, as well as links to Amazon records.

Included are books for parents that contain expert advice about how to talk to children about your cancer, how children perceive and react to a parent’s cancer diagnosis, and how to support your children and keep your family strong during cancer treatment.

Sometimes families need additional support and guidance as they face cancer together. The Patient and Family Support Services staff at the U-M Cancer Center offers a variety of services to help ease the burden of cancer, including social work staff specially trained to work with children whose parents are undergoing cancer treatment.

We know that supporting patients emotionally is an important component of cancer treatment and our mission is to reduce the burden of cancer for all of our patients and families. Please share in the comments any advice you have for parents.

The PERC is a philanthropy-funded resource center for U-M cancer patients and families.

Read the latest issue of Thrive

The latest issue of Thrive, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, is now available online.

Check out our cover story about options available to women who would like to start a family after cancer treatment has impaired their fertility. The issue also features stories about helping children cope with their parents’ cancer diagnoses and 10 ways to make better decisions about cancer care. Our dietitians weigh in on popular supplements, and our art therapist discusses the benefits of spending time on creative projects.

Visit Thrive online at Take time to browse our archive, too.

Check out U-M Cancer Center events

Jan. 10

Lymphedema Class
1:30-2:30 p.m.
Level 1, U-M Cancer Center

Lymphedema is a side effect of cancer surgery that can be prevented and managed. Join our lymphedema experts from the U-M Department of Physical and Occupational Therapy to learn more about upper extremity lymphedema and how you can manage it. This class is open to patients undergoing cancer surgery involving the arm, chest or back. Space is limited, and registration is required. Call 1-877-408-7377 to learn more.

Jan. 13

Bandito’s Supports the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center
10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Bandito’s Restaurant, 216 S. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor

Mention the words “Cancer Center” when you place your order at Bandito’s, and the restaurant will donate 30 percent of your bill the the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Patient and Family Support Services Program. This offer is available for dine-in, carry-out or delivery orders. To learn more, call the restaurant at 734-996-0234.

Jan. 18

Acrylic Painting: Interpreting the Emotion of Color
11 a.m.-1 p.m. or 4 p.m.-6 p.m.
Level 1, U-M Cancer Center

This month’s Art Studio will focus on working with monochromatic color palettes. Participants will create a painting that is an exploration of one emotion. Additional materials will be available for creating multimedia paintings. This program, which is part of the donor-supported Art Therapy Program, is available free of charge to U-M cancer patients and their families. Space is limited, and registration is required. Please call 1-877-408-7377.

Jan. 21

Free Cervical Cancer Screening
1 p.m.-4 p.m.
U-M Livonia Health Center, 20321 Farmington Road

Cervical cancer will kill more than 4,000 American women this year, but proper screening can save lives. More than half of all cervical cancer cases affect women ages 30 to 55. Hispanic and African-American women are at highest risk. This free screening is open to any woman older than 21 who has not had a Pap test in the past two years and who does not have medical insurance that covers a Pap test. Call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine at 1-800-865-1125 to schedule an appointment.

Jan. 28

Tim O’Brien Trivia Night
O’Kelly Knights of Columbus, Dearborn

Compete for prizes at Tim O’Brien Trivia Night. Proceeds from the event–which will feature appetizers and pizza along with drawings–will support the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. Cost is $20. For more information or to register, email

Do you have a cancer-related event you’d like to promote? Let us know!