Emergency Preparedness

What should I prepare for?
How can I prepare for emergencies?
What if I live far away?
When do I call 911?



What should I prepare for?

People with cancer sometime have serious, even life-threatening, events. These can be caused by the disease or treatment. You are less likely to be surprised by emergencies if you’ve learned about the person’s illness, and know what to expect. You’re also less likely to be caught off guard if you stay in touch with the patient, and his or her healthcare providers.

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How can I prepare for emergencies?

There are lots of ways to prepare:

  • Make sure that the patient’s phone has important numbers on “speed dial," including 911, yourself, other family, friends and support people, healthcare providers, and neighbors.
  • Make sure the patient has an emergency travel pack ready with his or her medication list, insurance cards, identification, medial allergies, and emergency contact information. Include healthy snacks and water for both the patient and yourself.
  • Keep a list of important names and numbers handy. Include the patient’s healthcare providers (by role), home healthcare agencies, local caregivers, and the patient’s other family, friends, neighbors, or support people.
  • Keep an up-to-date medication record for the patient on hand in case you need to speak with his or her healthcare providers.
  • If you have a Healthcare Proxy, keep a copy with you. The Healthcare Proxy shows that you legal power to make medical decisions if the patient can’t.
  • Be sure you have the exact address of the patient in case you need to call an ambulance for him or her.
  • Set up a phone tree to keep people in the patient’s support network up-to-date.

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What if I live far away?

If, in an emergency, you’ll have to travel to be with your loved one:

  • Make sure the people in your life know that you may have to leave on short notice, including your employer.
  • Have someone lined up in advance to care for children and pets, and take care of important household chores like the garden, mail, etc.
  • If you will be traveling by plane, know which airlines fly direct from your home to the patient’s area, and be aware that airlines sometimes give discounts for last minute travel due to medical emergencies.
  • If you will be driving, make sure your car is serviced regularly. Keep the gas tank mostly full. Keep a map in the car of the quickest route to the patient’s home and nearby hospital.
  • Have a small bag packed with toiletries and a change of clothes.

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When do I call 911?

Call 911 if you know that the patient:

  • Is unconscious, confused and/or hallucinating
  • Has chest pain or other severe pain
  • Is having trouble breathing
  • Has no pulse
  • Is bleeding severely or vomiting blood
  • Has had a seizure or bad fall
  • Has a severe headache and slurred speech
  • Has pressure or severe pain in the abdomen
  • Is unable to walk

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Next learn about...

Talking with healthcare providers
Medication management
Home safety

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This website was created to provide information, education, and support that will help cancer caregivers care for themselves and their family members. It is not meant as medical advice. Please check with your physician for any advice about your health.