Getting the patient all of the places they need to be can become a puzzle at times. There are lots of appointments at all hours of the day, and the patient will not be able to drive to many of them due to feeling under the weather, recovering from surgery, or just plain exhaustion.
This poses challenges to caregivers who want to make sure their loved one is taken care of while also balancing an appointment-heavy schedule that occurs during working hours - and is never totally predictable. So get ahead of it and make a plan!
Note: before you and the care team start planning, realize that the patient may be under the impression that they do not need help, they will be “fine” without transportation and general daily support, and that they do not want to burden you. This is totally normal. Make a plan anyway.
Don’t upset them by overruling what they want, simply get together with the other family and friends from the support system and create the “Plan B” schedule. It is inevitable that the patient will need help. They often need to “get there” on their own to realize this. Let them know you have their back and that there is always a safety net if they start needing help. Often, patients can get in over their heads with mounting responsibilities and appointments and ask for help too late, or be stubborn – and get resentful. Stay on top of them and have a full picture of their treatment plan and appointment needs.
- Understand the full treatment plan, duration, and what’s involved. Here’s some tips.
- Have a meeting with everyone that wants help and align your schedules. Divvy up core responsibilities based on each caregiver’s daily / work schedule and align with appointment type. The most common are: chemotherapy infusions, doctors office visits, lab work, radiation sessions, surgery, miscellaneous appointments, general tasks like food, household, prescriptions, etc., - and childcare, if applicable.
- Create a shared digital calendar – Google Calendar is a great one. This way, the schedule is seen by everyone, and reminders pop up on phone and computer calendars to avoid misses. Have someone be the admin and oversee all items. Here’s how to set it up.
- Note that there are services to help with transporting cancer patients to various appointments. Always ask the treatment center about their transportation options and investigate local non-profits that focus on patient transportation to fill in any gaps. Some services are like Mercy Medical Angels or Air Care Alliance for air travel.
Types of transportation needs:
- Regular chemo infusions and radiation sessions. If someone has more flexibility, they can be on drop off and pickup for regular infusions or radiation treatment days (which are the most frequent appointments). These can be divided into drop-off / pick-up, or the same individual can stay on-site and do both. These appointments are typically a few hours long.
- Office appointments with doctors. A spouse or closest trusted individual should attend checkups and check-ins with the doctor (Oncologist, Radiologist, Surgeon). They’ll want to have a full understanding on how treatment is going, help the patient remember questions to ask, and stay on top of the treatment plan. These are regular but less frequent and typically scheduled weeks in advance.
- Hospital stays. If the patient requires surgery figuring out who will take them, stay with them, and get them home is critical.
- Other, regular appointments. Patients may have separate lab appointments for bloodwork, physical therapy, traditional therapy, other physicians, a naturopath, etc. Make sure to fully understand everything the patient is doing so the caregiver or group can keep them on top of their health.
Other types of transportation needs:
- Groceries. The patient will need help with food and household staples. You can supplement needs of doing it all yourselves with delivery services – food delivery and grocery delivery – which greatly simplifies weekly tasks. Amazon Fresh is a fast, simple way to order groceries in most locations, your local supermarket likely also has grocery delivery options. Read some tips on preprepared meal services to supplement weekly groceries.
- Prescription medication refills. Someone needs to be dedicated and responsible for picking up medications if the patient is not being sent home with them automatically. An app like CareZone is a great way to simplify and manage medications and reminders.
- Childcare. If the patient has children at home, this is a very large need. From school drop offs and pickups, after school activities, occasional babysitting and more – get a childcare plan together. Note that the patient will need the most help at home on treatment days and the two days following (due to energy drain). Their energy may be in the upswing day 3 after treatments, but they will still not be “themselves.” Also, as treatment goes on, energy levels dwindle in general. The patient may want to do things themselves to gain some normalcy – especially with their children – but always have a behind the scenes “backup plan” for the patient as a caregiver. Let the patient know that childcare is always taken care of when they need to use it.
As you can tell, there are lots of needs with logistics during cancer treatment. Having a regular schedule to get the patient and the care group through the weeks / months ahead is crucial to reducing stress and keeping the patient focused on their treatment.