Daily Living Skills
Daily Living Skills


Most cancer patients need some assistance with dressing the first few days following surgery. If the woman has had lymph nodes removed, she may have difficulty lifting her arm to put it into the sleeve of a blouse or shirt. One Native Hawaiian survivor shared her strategy. She took an old, extra large T-shirt and cut it open under the sleeves. This allowed her to slip on the t-shirt. Then she used safety pins to close the sides for modesty.

Recognizing when we can be helpful and when we need to encourage independence is a continuum in the balance of care. As caretakers we often try to anticipate the cancer patients needs and do everything for them. The other end of the continuum is not asking them if they need help at all or not thinking they may be needing help.

There was one time I was going to go for my treatment and I was trying to put on a blouse...it was difficult to move my arm because it was still so sore and swollen from where they have taken out the lymph nodes. I had just gotten on my blouse, and my daughter came running into the room, "Oh Mom, let me help you" and she took it off of me. It was so frustrating, but also so funny. I had worked so hard to get that blouse on and she was so anxious to help me ... and took it off! We all have to laugh at ourselves now and then. Martha Red Willow (Oglala Sioux)

  • Modesty is valued by many Indian people and there may be reluctance in asking for help in personal care. Provide reassurance and encourage your loved one to ask for help.

Della’s Eds. My ceremonial mother had two daughters but she still had a problem with modesty issues and the daughters would close the door for privacy, have a robe or a towel around her and give her the opportunity to dress herself .

My father (also a cancer patient) adhered to our cultural roles of father/daughter relationships and modesty so it took a lot more reassuring for both of us to adapt to a new learning situation. This is also true with mother/son relationships and role expectations in many cultures. The cycle of life of the medicine wheel helped with my learning as well as using it as a tool to help my father understand that this is part of our journey through life and it is okay to reverse our roles of parent and child; care giver and caretaker. Assistance with undressing and dressing for exams at the doctors office, or at home allows your loved one to trust you and to begin transferring that trust to other caretakers. They begin to feel more comfortable about the help they receive with their personal care. Sensitivity and respect is appreciated.

  • Keep favorite clothes and accessories of your loved ones included in his/her dress-up list. Ask him/her if they need help to put on their watch, earrings, belt – if it is not uncomfortable to the person. Have special days for assisting with makeup, haircuts and hairdos, and other special care as a pedicure, manicure or a nice massage.
  • Personal Care time such bathing, showering, dressing can be followed by a special time for relaxation if one is not going out for an appointment. Many times the personal cleansing experience is vigorous enough for the patient and she may need to simply rest to recovery from bathing.

Paying Bills

My husband ... took more of ... (the) stress, he took the burdens that I normally would have dealt with; the everyday household things, ... he’d make sure the groceries were taken care of, the bills were taken care of, the kids were taken care of, so you know that I could concentrate of myself .. (He contacted) the insurance company, that was very helpful because when you’re being diagnosed with cancer I found that there were so many things that needed to be done and it was very difficult to do those things myself. - Candi Miller (Haida)

For Cancer Patients who have insurance. The Caretaker may need to advocate on the part of the patient to make certain the insurance is covering all of the bills that it is supposed to. Some insurance companies refuse to pay some bills that are clearly covered in the health insurance policy. You will need to become familiar with the policy and be ready to confront the insurance company of the page and statements that explains the cancer bills are covered. Also confirm the amount of the "deductible" ... some bills will claim that the patient owes more that she should and unless corrected by the insurance company, the patient may overpay her share.

For Cancer patients who are on Disability. Medicare and SSI, and state plans which may be unique to your state may be of assistance with paying the bills. Most hospitals provide staff who have expertise in helping to find appropriate resources to help pay for the medical bills. Call the hospital, request the Medicare or Social Services expert. Find out what type of paperwork s/he needs to have to determine eligibility (e.g., Income tax statement, copy of monthly paycheck, proof of disability paperwork, social security card, birth certificate), collect those items for the cancer patient and meet with the expert to begin the paperwork. At some point the cancer patient will need to review everything for accuracy and sign the paperwork.


When going through chemotherapy and radiation therapy, many people lose their appetite. Others get sores in their mouths that are painful if eating acidic foods. Others feel nauseous. Others have diarrhea. Others become constipated.

Some of the recipes and food preparation ideas shared here may address one or more of these side effects.

  • Teas for upset stomach -ginger tea
  • Traditional treatments for diarrhea (pull out Positively Native)
  • No appetite
  • Pathways to Wellness (Vera’s book)
  • People feel too weak to do grocery shopping, or do shopping for personal items. The caretaker often has the responsibility of shopping for their loved ones. Make a list of needed items including what the personal needs/ wants are from your loved one. Ask family members, friends, and community members to assist you in going shopping for the cancer patient.
  • Some grocery stores do phone shopping and delivery for homebound persons so you may want to know what your resources are in your community.

Meal Preparation

  • Sharing responsibilities on meal preparation can be a creative experience for the entire family. Have people sign up to prepare an easy, healthy meal for the patient and her family while she is going through cancer treatment. Menu planning and preparation does not need to change drastically but include foods that are essential for your loved one’s health. This would also allow the primary caretaker to not "do it all."
  • Cultural expectations concerning food and meal preparation may also bring additional responsibilities for the caretakers during this time in many Indian homes. ( In my Lakota culture we are taught to offer food to those who come to your household and when someone is ill many relatives and friends come to visit.) Some of the relatives who stay may help with the cooking but if there is no one there it is usually another responsibility of the primary caretaker. People will ask how they can help and this may be a good time to say you need someone to coordinate meal planning and preparation for you. A cultural belief and practice of sharing food can be strengthened by expanding new practices that are appropriate: signing up people or groups in the community to prepare meals (including family members) so that sharing is reciprocal.

House Cleaning

  • Sign up sheets for house cleaning is encouraged with sharing of tasks. "Task trading" and other arrangements can be explored to accommodate the family composition; i.e. age, and number of people in family.
  • If your loved one wishes to be a part of the "task team" ask him/her what they would like to do and ask them if you can assist them.
  • People feel weak during treatment and recovery and task inclusion may not be appropriate so awareness of what the person is capable of doing is important.
  • If all the tasks do not get done do not get stressed; accept that the house may not be as clean as you would like to have it.

Clothes Shopping

  • People may lose weight while going through treatment and their clothes may fit differently. Taking the person to shop or buying them a new item to wear is often appreciated.
  • Shopping for personal gifts for your loved one can include special "likes" or "needs" of the person. Gift ideas can include, scented candles, earrings, etc.


  • Assess and coordinate your available modes of transportation and what your family needs are.
  • Continue to keep the transportation schedule available also for the children (baseball practice, etc) and family members that need to keep appointments.
  • If other transportation is needed check resources on what is available in your community. Car pooling, public transportation, relatives and friends and cancer information lines are available in some communities.

top of page