Skip to main content

Expat health: Support for loved ones with cancer

Relocating abroad and discovering a loved one has cancer comes with many concerns.

What kind of care will be available? How will everyone cope without the familiar support network back home? Start the journey with these tips in mind.

There’s never a ‘good time or place’ to get a cancer diagnosis. But if you’re abroad with family members on work assignment and discover someone you love has cancer, the shock comes along with some unique concerns. What kind of care will be available where you are? How will everyone cope without the familiar support network back home? Start the journey with these tips in mind.

Educate yourself

  • Ask about coordinated care. Find out if a ‘patient navigator’ is available to coordinate appointments for biopsies, scans, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. At Aetna International, comprehensive cancer treatment is standard with most plans — and members of our CARE team are on hand 24/7 to answer questions.
  • Turn to credible websites for information. It can be hard to know which online information you find is accurate or applies to your loved one’s specific diagnosis. Tried-and-true sites such as the World Health Organization can be a good place to start — but do check with local doctors and care managers to see whether the information is trustworthy and applicable.
  • Attend doctor appointments. Learn more about your loved one’s diagnosis and recommended treatment by going to their initial appointments. Discuss questions beforehand and be prepared to take notes. If you can’t be there, many doctors will provide a printout of the appointment summary and treatment plan.

Create a support team

  • Spread the outreach. Even if you’re new to the area and don’t know many people, neighbors or co-workers are usually happy to lend a hand when asked. Local nonprofits, houses of worship or community groups can pitch in. Our CARE team can often refer our members to relevant community resources such as meal delivery programmes.
  • Come together. Coordinate an in-person or online meeting to introduce people and organise grocery shopping, meal preparation, driving assistance and other care-related tasks.
  • Communicate globally. Depending on your loved one’s comfort level, create an email distribution list or private web page to share information. This helps cut down on the time you spend informing people individually about their condition and fielding messages and calls. It’s especially helpful for friends and family who are far away.

Focus on emotional needs

  • Consider counselling options. Some insurance policies cover counselling programmes for cancer patients and family members on the same plan. Take early advantage of the support.
  • Preserve dignity. Well-meaning caregivers often “take over” tasks and decision-making, which can can frustrate patients and compromise their sense of independence and control. Ask first what they’d like help with.
  • Optimise your visits. If you’re not the primary caregiver but want to lend emotional support, schedule brief, regular visits — if possible at times when others aren’t available.
  • Discuss concerns. Instead of trying to ‘protect’ each other by avoiding conversations about fears or making false assurances that everything will be OK, talking openly can help everyone. And ask how much information you learn from outside sources your loved one really wants to hear.
  • Don’t be a superhero — just show up. Let go of concerns that you’re not doing enough, or not doing something well enough. Just being there for the person goes a long way.

Comprehensive cancer cover is just one of many ways we help members living and working away from home. Members can turn to our CARE team for support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.