Angel who help

Submit a question to our expert—this month’s featured topic: Caregiving.

This month’s featured expert

Carly O'Brien, MSW, OSW-C, LCSW

is Caregiver Program Coordinator at CancerCare and provides supportive counseling and resources to patients, caregivers and their loved ones.


Caregiving for a loved one with limited mobility can be physically and emotionally overwhelming. Help comes in many forms, and it sounds like a combination of both practical and emotional support might be most helpful to your family now.

Asking for help when needed is an important part of the caregiver experience. It sounds like the part-time help your parents have enlisted is a good starting place to help ensure that her basic day-to-day needs are being met. Checking in with local community agencies, religious organizations or hospital social worker may provide additional information on respite care or volunteer services to help your dad manage the practical aspects of caregiving.

You can ask your mom’s doctor about possible mobility devices (e.g., walkers, seat risers or swivel seats) that can help her move around more easily. Also, you could ask for a referral to an occupational therapist who might be able to address and work on specific mobility issues.

n some cases, a person’s physical needs exceed what family members or friends are able to provide, regardless of how much they want to or try to help. If you are finding this to be true, you may want to explore’s Caregivers' Resources as they may help offer information on assisted living and nursing homes, and other resources and support for caregivers.

It’s also important that you and your dad are taking care of yourselves. CancerCare’s workshop, Stress Management for Caregivers: Taking Care of Yourself Physically and Emotionally, may offer some tips on managing the emotional impact of caregiving. CancerCare’s staff of licensed oncology social workers can also provide free counseling and support groups (including online and telephone support groups for caregivers) to you and your dad to help you cope with your role as caregivers.


Being a “long distance” caregiver is a unique experience that can be especially challenging. Working to find balance between your own needs and the needs of a loved one with cancer can feel overwhelming for anyone in the caregiver role. But remember, there are many ways you can be supportive and involved in your loved one’s care regardless of the distance between you.

Offering emotional support is one of the most helpful things that you can do for your loved one. Simply checking in and letting your dad know that you are thinking him can go a long way; call, email, Skype, send a card or visit when you can. Those reminders not only show that you care, but may also leave you feeling more connected.


Many caregivers find it difficult to accept help. Caregivers often feel a sense of responsibility to take care of things on their own in order for them to feel that they’re doing "enough." However, this can become quite burdensome, and often leaves the caregiver feeling run down, just as you mentioned your mom is. This fatigue may also be a sign of distress and can indicate a need for more support.

Letting your mom know that you are concerned about her may initiate a conversation about the importance of self-care. It is very true that in order to be a good caregiver, it’s important to take care of oneself – this often starts with the most basic of needs – healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits. The American Cancer Society’s Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire may identify specific areas where your mom can use more support. This might give you a better idea of how to help her, and how she can help herself.

Framing the conversation about self-care in a way that allows your mom to see how taking these measures for herself will also benefit her mother may make it easier for her to accept. CancerCare has a fact sheet entitled "Caring Advice for Caregivers: How Can You Help Yourself?" that may also give some helpful tips to make all of this more manageable.

Similarly, you may be able to assist by offering to help with specific tasks, like taking your grandmother to treatment or grocery shopping. This approach is generally more helpful than asking how you can help, as it gives your mom one less thing to think about or to delegate. This way, you are giving your mom a moment of respite without sacrificing your grandmother’s needs.

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