The following article features coverage from the 46th Annual Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress. Click here to read more of Oncology Nurse Advisor‘s conference coverage.

Strategies for addressing the needs of family members in the context of cancer caregiving were presented at the 46th Annual Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress by Deborah Boyle, MSN, RN, AOCNS®, FAAN, of Advanced Oncology Nursing Resources in Phoenix, Arizona, and Suzanne Berg, BS, CCLS, of Froedtert Hospital and Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In addressing the importance of family members involved in cancer caregiving, Ms Boyle pointed out that, “They, not us, are the major providers of patient-focused care in the United States.

“There’s an unrealistic expectation that families can enact their caregiving role with no training and ongoing support,” she added, stressing the importance of assessing risk factors potentially facing family caregivers, such as emotional distress, expectations, and safety concerns, in addition to communication style and availability of support. She recommended providing a “menu” of options for developing a caregiving plan.

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Case studies were presented to illustrate the challenges family caregivers may face. In the first case, a patient’s primary family caregiver lived in another state. Long-distance caregiving approaches were implemented, including informational updates for the family member and plans for both parties to seek outside support.

In the second case, the family caregiver was potentially overwhelmed by caregiving demands and also had health and safety concerns. A staff registered nurse evaluated their needs and assistance from a social worker was requested.

Ms Berg focused on children whose family members are the patients. People have a tendency to try to shelter children from what an ill family member is experiencing. However, Ms Berg recommended providing developmentally appropriate explanations. “I think it’s extremely important to be honest with your children. Children need to know what’s going on. If we’re not honest, they will pick up on your body language,” she pointed out.

Strategies for emotionally engaging children include using art, writing, family activities, or making a scrapbook of memories. One idea Ms Berg presented was to have the child decorate a doll or pillow that can be left with the patient to help the patient and child feel connected.

Takeaways for nurses included to perform brief assessments to identify high-risk family scenarios, collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines to aid in this, and to include family members in intervention planning.

Read more of Oncology Nurse Advisor‘s coverage of the 46th Annual ONS Congress by visiting the conference page.


Boyle D, Berg S. Customizing nursing care for at-risk family members in cancer caregiving. Oral presentation at: 46th ONS Annual Congress; April 20-29, 2021. Accessed April 23, 2021.