Understanding and Caring for Your Loved One with Liver Cancer

Published on February 19, 2024

Updated on February 18, 2024

Liver cancer can bring about significant changes in your loved one's health and well-being. As a hospice registered nurse case manager, I'm here to help you understand what to expect during this journey and how to provide the best care possible. Remember, I'm here to offer guidance and support every step of the way.

What to Expect: The Journey of Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is a serious disease that affects the organ that helps your body digest food and filter out toxins. It can be caused by several factors, such as chronic infection, alcohol abuse, or genetic mutations. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, your loved one might have different treatment options and outcomes.

Early Stages: In the early stages of liver cancer, symptoms might not be very noticeable. Your loved one might experience fatigue, weight loss, and in the abdomen. They might also have jaundice, which causes their skin and eyes to turn yellow. These signs should prompt a visit to the doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The doctor will perform some tests, such as blood tests, imaging tests, or biopsies, to confirm the presence and extent of the cancer. The doctor will also assign a stage to the cancer, ranging from stage I to stage IV, based on how large the tumor is and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. The stage will help determine the best treatment plan for your loved one.

The treatment options for early-stage liver cancer might include surgery, ablation, embolization, or targeted therapy. These treatments aim to remove or destroy the cancer cells while preserving as much healthy liver tissue as possible. Your loved one might need to undergo one or more of these treatments, depending on their situation. They might also need to take medications or supplements to support their liver function and overall health.

Progression: As the cancer progresses, symptoms might become more pronounced. Your loved one could experience pain in the upper abdomen, loss of appetite, and nausea. They might also feel weak and have difficulty concentrating. It's crucial to communicate openly with their medical team about any changes in their condition.

The doctor will monitor the response and side effects of the treatment, and adjust it as needed. The doctor might also suggest some options, such as , nutrition support, or emotional counseling, to improve your loved one's quality of life. These options can help your loved one cope with the physical and emotional challenges of living with liver cancer.

Advanced Stages: In the advanced stages of liver cancer, symptoms can become more severe. Your loved one might have swelling in the abdomen and legs due to fluid buildup. Fatigue and weakness might increase, making it hard for them to perform daily tasks.

The treatment options for advanced-stage liver cancer might include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or clinical trials. These treatments aim to slow down the growth and spread of the cancer cells, and to boost the immune system's ability to fight the disease. However, these treatments might not be effective for everyone, and they might cause serious side effects. Your loved one might need to weigh the benefits and risks of these treatments with their doctor.

At this stage, it's important to focus on your loved one's comfort and dignity. You can help them by providing physical, emotional, and spiritual support. You can also seek help from hospice care, which is a specialized service that provides compassionate care for people with terminal illnesses and their families. Hospice care can help your loved one manage their symptoms, relieve their pain, and fulfill their wishes.

Caring for a loved one with liver cancer can be challenging and stressful. You might feel overwhelmed, scared, or angry at times. You might also neglect your own needs and well-being. That's why it's essential to take care of yourself as well. You can do this by getting enough rest, eating well, exercising, and finding healthy ways to cope with your emotions. You can also reach out to your family, friends, or support groups for help and comfort.

Observing Changes in Your Loved One

Liver cancer can cause many changes in your loved one's physical and mental state. These changes can vary depending on the stage and type of the cancer, the treatment they receive, and their individual response. Some of these changes might be subtle, while others might be more noticeable. It's important to observe these changes and report them to their medical team, as they might indicate the need for a change in treatment or care.

Physical Changes: Watch for changes in their appearance, such as jaundice, weight loss, and swelling. Jaundice is a condition that causes the skin and eyes to turn yellow, due to the buildup of a substance called bilirubin in the blood. This can happen when the liver is not working well. Weight loss can occur when the cancer affects the appetite, metabolism, or digestion. Swelling can happen when the cancer blocks the blood flow in the liver, causing fluid to accumulate in the abdomen or legs. These changes can affect your loved one's comfort and self-esteem, so it's important to help them feel as comfortable and confident as possible.

Energy Levels: Notice if your loved one becomes increasingly tired and has trouble staying active. Fatigue is a common symptom of liver cancer, as the cancer consumes energy and nutrients from the body. Fatigue can also be a side effect of some treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation. Your loved one might need more rest and sleep than usual and might have difficulty doing their usual activities. It's important to respect their energy limits and help them balance rest and activity. You can also encourage them to do some gentle exercises, such as walking or stretching, to improve their blood circulation and mood.

Pain and Discomfort: Be attentive to signs of pain, discomfort, or a change in their pain pattern. They might express discomfort in the abdomen or other areas. Pain can be caused by the tumor pressing on nerves, organs, or bones, or by the treatments that damage healthy cells. Pain can also affect your loved one's mood, sleep, and appetite. It's important to help your loved one manage their pain effectively, by following their doctor's instructions on pain medications, and by using other methods, such as massage, heat, or relaxation techniques, to ease their discomfort.

Appetite and Hydration: Monitor their eating habits and fluid intake. If they struggle to eat or drink, it's important to discuss this with their medical team. Liver cancer can affect the appetite, digestion, and absorption of nutrients, making it hard for your loved one to eat enough and stay hydrated. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, can also cause nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores, which can make eating and drinking unpleasant. Your loved one might need to eat smaller, more frequent meals, and avoid foods that are spicy, fatty, or hard to digest. They might also need to drink more fluids, such as water, juice, or broth, to prevent dehydration. You can help your loved one by preparing nutritious and appetizing foods, and by offering them drinks and snacks throughout the day.

Caring for Your Loved One: Providing Comfort and Support

Liver cancer can be a difficult and stressful experience for both you and your loved one. You might feel overwhelmed, scared, or helpless at times. You might also wonder how you can best care for your loved one and make them feel comfortable and supported. Here are some tips that might help you:

Open Communication: Maintain open and honest conversations with your loved one about their needs, fears, and wishes. This will help you provide care that aligns with their preferences. You can also use this opportunity to express your own feelings and concerns, and to strengthen your bond. You don't have to talk about everything at once but try to check in with your loved one regularly and listen to what they have to say. You can also ask them if they want to talk to anyone else, such as a counselor, a spiritual leader, or a support group.

Comfort Measures: Focus on keeping your loved one comfortable. Position changes, gentle massages, and techniques can make a significant difference. You can help your loved one find a comfortable position that eases their breathing and reduces their pressure. You can also give them a gentle massage on their back, shoulders, or feet, to relax their muscles and improve their blood flow. You can also help them manage their pain by following their doctor's instructions on pain medications, and by using other methods, such as heat, ice, or distraction, to ease their discomfort.

Nutrition: Offer small, frequent meals that are easy to digest. Include foods they enjoy and can tolerate. Hydration is essential, so encourage them to sip water throughout the day. Liver cancer can affect the appetite, digestion, and absorption of nutrients, making it hard for your loved one to eat enough and stay hydrated. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, can also cause nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores, which can make eating and drinking unpleasant. Your loved one might need to eat smaller, more frequent meals, and avoid foods that are spicy, fatty, or hard to digest. They might also need to drink more fluids, such as water, juice, or broth, to prevent dehydration. You can help your loved one by preparing nutritious and appetizing foods, and by offering them drinks and snacks throughout the day.

Emotional Support: Emotions can run high during this time. Be a listening ear, offer reassurance, and let them express their feelings without judgment. Your loved one might experience a range of emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, or guilt. They might also feel isolated, depressed, or hopeless. It's important to acknowledge their feelings and let them know that they are not alone. You can also offer them reassurance by reminding them of their strengths, their achievements, and their support network. You can also help them cope with their emotions by using positive affirmations, relaxation techniques, or humor.

Engage in Activities: Depending on their energy levels, engage in activities they enjoy. It could be as simple as reading a book, watching a movie, or spending time outdoors. Engaging in activities can help your loved one maintain their interest, their sense of purpose, and their connection with others. It can also distract them from their pain and worries and boost their mood and self-esteem. You can help your loved one by suggesting some activities that suit their preferences and abilities, and by joining them in doing them. You can also respect their need for privacy and solitude and let them have some time for themselves.

Providing End-of-Life Care

There may come a time when the cancer treatment is no longer working, and your loved one is nearing the end of life. This can be an exceedingly difficult and emotional time for both of you. You may feel sad, angry, scared, or numb. You may also have many questions and concerns about what will happen and how to help your loved one. In this section, we will give you some tips on how to provide end-of-life care and ensure comfort and peace for your loved one.

Hospice Care: Hospice care is a type of care that focuses on making your loved one as comfortable as possible in the last months, weeks, or days of life. Hospice care does not try to cure the cancer or prolong life, but rather to relieve pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, , or . Hospice care also provides emotional and spiritual support for your loved one and your family. Hospice care can be given at home, in a hospital, or in a hospice facility, depending on your loved one's needs and preferences. You can help your loved one by:

  • Talking to the doctor about hospice care. You can ask the doctor if your loved one is eligible for hospice care and when it might be appropriate to start. You can also ask the doctor for a referral to a hospice program in your area. You can find more information about hospice care from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization or the American Cancer Society.
  • Choosing a hospice program that meets your loved one's needs. You can compare different hospice programs based on their services, staff, costs, and location. You can also visit the hospice facility or talk to the hospice staff to get a sense of their philosophy and approach. You can ask questions such as:
    • What services do you offer and how often?
    • Who will be part of the hospice team and how will they communicate with us?
    • How do you manage pain and other symptoms?
    • How do you provide emotional and spiritual support?
    • How do you involve the family in the care plan?
    • How do you handle emergencies or after-hours calls?
    • How do you coordinate with other health care providers?
    • How do you bill for your services and what insurance do you accept?
  • Working with the hospice team to create a care plan. The hospice team will include a doctor, a nurse, a , a , a counselor, a home health aide, and a . They will work with you and your loved one to create a care plan that reflects your loved one's wishes and goals. The care plan will include details such as:
    • What medications and treatments your loved one will receive and how they will be administered.
    • What equipment and supplies your loved one will need and how they will be delivered.
    • What comfort measures and complementary therapies your loved one will use, such as massage, music, or aromatherapy.
    • What emotional and spiritual support your loved one and your family will receive, such as counseling, prayer, or rituals.
    • What legal and financial matters your loved one and your family will need to address, such as advance directives, wills, or funeral arrangements.
  • Providing care and support for your loved one. You will be the primary caregiver for your loved one, but you will not be alone. The hospice team will visit your loved one regularly and be available by phone 24/7. They will teach you how to care for your loved one, such as giving medications, changing dressings, or using equipment. They will also monitor your loved one's condition and adjust the care plan as needed. You can also ask for help from other family members, friends, or volunteers. You can help your loved one by:
    • Giving them their medications and treatments as prescribed and on time. Do not skip or change the doses without consulting the hospice team.
    • Keeping track of their pain and symptom level and how well the medications and treatments are working. Report any changes or concerns to the hospice team.
    • Providing comfort measures, such as massage, heat, ice, or distraction. You can also help them find a comfortable position, use pillows or cushions, or adjust the lighting or temperature in the room.
    • Being there for them emotionally and spiritually. Listen to their feelings and concerns without judging or interrupting. Try to be positive and hopeful, but also realistic and honest. Share your own feelings and fears with your loved one or someone else you trust. You can also seek professional help from a counselor or therapist if you or your loved one are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious.

Emotional Well-being: The end of life can be a time of mixed emotions for your loved one and your family. Your loved one may feel grateful, peaceful, or relieved, but also sad, angry, or scared. They may also have regrets, unfinished business, or unfulfilled dreams. You can help your loved one by:

  • Helping them find meaning and purpose in their life. You can help them reflect on their life story, their achievements, their values, and their legacy. You can also help them express their gratitude, forgiveness, or love to the people who matter to them. You can use different methods, such as writing, drawing, recording, or making a scrapbook.
  • Helping them cope with their fears and worries. You can help them identify and address their sources of fear and worry, such as pain, suffering, loss of control, or the unknown. You can also help them find ways to reduce their fear and worry, such as talking, praying, meditating, or breathing. You can also help them find comfort and hope in their , beliefs, or philosophy.
  • Helping them create cherished memories. You can help them make the most of the time they have left with their loved ones. You can help them plan and enjoy special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. You can also help them create meaningful gifts, such as letters, videos, or jewelry, for their loved ones to remember them by.

Conclusion

Caring for a loved one with liver cancer can be challenging, but with knowledge and , you can provide meaningful support throughout their journey. Remember, you're not alone—reach out to medical professionals, support groups, and for assistance.

Resources

Caring for a Loved One with Terminal Cancer: A Guide for Families

Understanding Cancer Metastasis: A Guide for Patients and Families

Liver Cancer – Symptoms, Causes, Types, Complications and Prevention

Liver cancer symptoms and risk factors

American Cancer Society – Liver Cancer

Mayo Clinic – Liver Cancer

American Society of Clinical Oncology – Liver Cancer

Understanding Hospice Care: Is it Too Early to Start Hospice?

What's the process of getting your loved one on hospice service?

Picking a hospice agency to provide hospice services

Medicare — Find and compare hospice providers

The Importance of Caregiver Journaling

Reporting Changes of Condition to Hospice

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The Caregiver's Guide to Cancer: Compassionate Advice for Caring for You and Your Loved One (Caregiver's Guides)

Cancer Caregiving A-to-Z: An At-Home Guide for Patients and Families

Peace in the Face of Cancer

A Handbook of caring for someone with cancer: Instructions for the Support Person or Caregiver Helping a Loved One Survive Cancer

Co-Surviving Cancer: The Guide for Caregivers, Family Members and Friends of Adults Living with Cancer

Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer Caregivers Speak Out

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

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My Aging Parent Needs Help!: 7 Step Guide to Caregiving with No Regrets, More Compassion, and Going from Overwhelmed to Organized [Includes Tips for Caregiver Burnout]

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver's Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm

The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself

Dear Caregiver, It's Your Life Too: 71 Self-Care Tips To Manage Stress, Avoid Burnout And Find Joy Again While Caring For A Loved One

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

The Art of Dying

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

Providing Comfort During the Last Days of Life with Barbara Karnes RN (YouTube Video)

Preparing the patient, family, and caregivers for a “Good Death”

Velocity of Changes in Condition as an Indicator of Approaching Death (often helpful to answer how soon? or when?)

The Dying Process and the End of Life

The Last Hours of Life

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Gone from My Sight: The Dying Experience

The Eleventh Hour: A Caring Guideline for the Hours to Minutes Before Death

By Your Side , A Guide for Caring for the Dying at Home

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