Family meetings can help you make sure that everyone understands the situation. Caring for someone with cancer is not a one-person job. You need others to pitch in. Even if they don’t give direct care, the time you spend caregiving may affect them. Meetings are a way to keep everyone informed and involved. Family meetings can be a good place to problem-solve and share opinions. Sometimes, doctors and nurses hold meetings to help the family understand the diagnosis and treatment.
Not all family meetings go smoothly. Feelings about the person’s cancer diagnosis and future, bad past relationships, and poor communication can get in the way. But the results can be positive.
You should have a family meeting when:
- Your loved one is diagnosed.
- You need to make decisions.
- You need to solve problems.
- The health of the patient changes.
Some families meet on a regular basis to share news, deal with issues as they come up, make decisions, and talk about their feelings and needs.
Invite everyone who will be caring for the person with cancer, including family members, close friends, neighbors, and paid caregivers. Also think about including family and friends who live outside the area. There are ways for them to help from a distance.
A big decision is whether the person being cared for should be at every family meeting. On one hand, the patient needs to voice his or her ideas and concerns. On the other hand, family members and friends may not be as frank around him or her. If you don’t include the person being cared for, sit down with him or her before and after the meeting so that he or she stays in the loop.
Here are some tips:
- Review the tips on talking with family & friends about caregiving. Consider sharing these with everyone before the meeting.
- Hold the family meeting at a neutral and comfortable place. This could be someone's home, office, a room at the doctor’s, or the phone.
- Pick a time and place when you will not be interrupted. Ask people to turn off their cell phones or put them on vibrate. If small children will be there, have a sitter watch them in a different part of the house.
- Consider having an “outsider” lead the meeting. A social worker, pastor, or nurse may be more able to keep the meeting on track.
- Prepare an agenda and give it out before the meeting. Put the most important items first. For example, you may want to discuss:
- Patient’s health status (especially any changes)
- Goals of treatment/care
- Daily caregiving needs
- Financial issues
- Individual roles
- Primary caregiver support needs
- Put a time limit on each item. For example, "We will talk for 20 minutes about money and then we need to move on to helping with housework." Ask someone to keep track of the time.
- Prepare for difficult people. If you think some of the attendees might bring personal baggage to the meeting, talk to them in advance. If you have an outsider leading the meeting, give them a heads up.
- Prepare for disagreements. The family may not agree on some things. If you can’t reach an agreement, decide to try it one way for a month, and set a time to talk again about how things are working.
- Have someone take notes. The note-taker should write down decisions and assignments. Give everyone a copy of the notes after the meeting.
- Make sure to assign people tasks they can do well. For example, ask the cheerful, scattered cousin to sit with the patient rather than review bills.
- Remember that you can’t solve everything in one meeting. At the end of the family meeting, set up a time and a place for the next one.
- Follow-up. When you meet again, start by reviewing the notes and decisions from the previous meeting.