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My husband has had cancer for a year now and I am his only caregiver. There have not been any offers of help from his family. Not even a ride, lunch, or even just texting and telling my husband how the grandchildren are. This is making things difficult for my husband and myself. I don't want to be bothered with them at this point. Can you help?

 

Question: My husband has had stage three or four pancreatic cancer for a year now, and I am his only caregiver. His tumor had spread but heavy duty chemo has made it shrink. He is still on chemo and every three months we leave town to go to the Institute where he is receiving medical care so they can check to see how the chemo is working. His family seems to believe the cancer is going away or that I might be telling them it is bad when it isn't. There have not been any offers of help. Not even a ride, lunch, or even just texting and telling my husband how the grandchildren are. Maybe it is because I am their stepmother. At this stage of the game that should be irrelevant. This is making things difficult for my husband and myself. I don't want to be bothered with them at this point. And I worry about down the road. Can you help?

Dr. Amy: Often with family members, we feel they should step forward without being asked. Yet, having worked for many years with older adults and their families, I can tell you that it is very common for family members to need to be asked to provide assistance. It is, therefore, important to let the children know specifically what help is needed and to ask if they would be willing to give you a hand. If you all use email, you might do this in a group email. Make sure the tone is friendly and non-accusatory. I find it sometimes helpful to have someone not involved in the situation read the email to make sure it comes across as intended. You could also explain how much it would mean to just have them contact their father with news of the grandchildren. Again, tone is very important in this communication!

If the children are unwilling to help, you can start seeking assistance from other places. I would discuss this with his primary doctor who may be able to refer you to resources in your community.

I know it can feel frustrating that family members don’t just jump in and provide care. However, the reasons this doesn't happen are varied. Often, I find family members are shocked that the primary caregiver needs help. They say things such as, “I had no idea, I thought they had everything under control!” I encourage you to ask for help today.

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