Sharing Responsibilities

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2017

Caring for a person with cancer often brings families together. Caregiving can lead them to provide mutual support to one another. But the pressures of caregiving may also bring back old family conflicts or create new ones. These conflicts can make it difficult for family members to work together.

Families that express their feelings in a healthy way and work together can solve caregiving problems more easily. Families who have members who solve problems alone and tend to disagree might have a harder time coping. It is important for families to understand and talk about how they react to stressful events.

Potential problems

Possible sources of conflict among families include:

  • Unequal division of caregiving duties. It is typical for one family member to take the lead in caring for the person who has cancer. He or she manages most of the caregiving tasks alone. This can make the caregiver feel stressed, frustrated, and resentful. Also, other family members may feel left out.

  • Disagreement on caregiving decisions. There may be different opinions among family members about financial, medical, and daily caregiving decisions.

  • Differences in coping styles. Family members may react differently to their caregiving tasks and cope with their feelings in different ways.

  • Falling into old family roles. The relationship between family members may sometimes switch back to when they were younger. Siblings may find they begin to deal with conflicts in the same way they did in the past. Or, one family member may take on too many tasks and feel angry toward others who are doing less.

Working together as caregivers

Although resolving family problems can be difficult and awkward, it is important to talk about issues quickly. This makes the family better able to provide quality care to the person with cancer. Each family member should think about whether it is more important to be right or to provide support.

The following advice can help families work together to become a supportive group.

  • Expect and accept different opinions and coping styles among family members.

  • Involve the person with cancer, if possible. He or she should always be a central part of all care-related issues.

  • Do not be afraid to ask for help with caregiving tasks, and learn how to accept this.

  • Appreciate family members who are trying to help, even if the help is not exactly what is needed.

  • Be practical in dividing up caregiving tasks. Allow family members to help in the ways that they are able. Assign tasks based on each person’s abilities, lifestyles, and schedules.

  • Caregiving tasks will change daily and weekly. Encourage family members to be flexible and pitch in when others need extra help.

  • Get outside help from friends, relatives, and volunteer groups.

  • Be an example to others in the family by taking care of your physical and emotional needs.

  • Use online tools that allow you to plan tasks and communicate information. That way, all caregivers can get the latest news by connecting to the Internet.

  • Keep in mind that you are all working towards the same goal, even if there are different ways to do this.

To help you plan and work together as a family, ASCO Answers Guide to Caregiving (PDF) provides a chart to keep track of who would is available to help with daily or weekly caregiving tasks.

Family meetings

It may be helpful to schedule regular family meetings. This is a time to encourage family and friends on the caregiving team to discuss issues and concerns. Those who cannot attend in person may be able to join by phone. During these meetings, everyone should listen to others yet also express their opinions.


Some families may need professional help, such as counseling, to resolve their differences. In counseling, family members talk about their problems and receive advice from a trained mental health professional. A counselor can help families find answers to focused and current problems.

By working together, a family can provide quality care with the least possible amount of problems.

Related Resources

More Information

The free ASCO Answers Guide to Caring for a Loved One With Cancer includes practical tips, advice for communicating with family and the health care team, and worksheets to help track medications and coordinate caregiving tasks. Download this guide as a printable PDF in English (44 pages) or in Spanish (40 pages). Printed copies can be purchased in bulk from the ASCO Store.