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While sharing the struggle of my friend's mother in her valiant battle with cancer, I better appreciated the importance of ongoing patient and family education.

When Linda's mother was told she had cancer, she was shocked and fearful. Her subsequent recovery from surgery was more arduous than the family expected. She's now undergoing chemotherapy, and my friend's life revolves around her mother's response to each session.To help people such as Linda and her mother deal with their feelings and fears, the National Cancer Institute developed four booklets to help. These booklets are geared to patients, families and friends, and give practical tips on dealing with cancer and its treatment.

"Radiation Therapy and You" describes common types of radiation therapy and explains the side effects. "Chemotherapy and You" tells patients what to expect and offers self-help tips for managing side effects.

"Eating Hints" stresses the importance of eating well during cancer treatment. I sent this to my friend's mom because I thought the suggestions for dealing with eating problems were excellent. It provides simple and useful menus.

"Taking time: Support for People with Cancer and the People Who Care About Them" discusses the emotional feelings patients and families experience.

These booklets are free from the National Cancer Institute and should be required reading for anyone with cancer as well as their families and friends. To order the series, call 1-800-4-CANCER, or write to the Office of Cancer Communication, National Cancer Institute, Building 31, Bethesda, Md. 20892.-Elyse Salend

QUESTION: Four years ago, my parents purchased a long-term-care insurance policy. Recently my 87-year-old mother had to go into a nursing home and my father moved in with us. When we spoke to the insurance agent about coverage, I was amazed to learn that the plan was riddled with exclusions and barely paid for anything. Were my parents fraudulently treated?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, most private long-term-care insurance policies don't provide comprehensive coverage, and many fall short of the mark in covering basics.

Private long-term-care insurance was first sold in the 1970s. However, the majority of policies have been written in the past four years. About 500,000 policies have been sold to older Americans.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined 75 long-term-care insurance plans and options. They found that 82 percent had severe restrictions in coverage, making it hard for beneficiaries to collect. A $50-a-day benefit was considered inadequate to meet costs incurred by care in a nursing home. Premiums for long-term-care policies range from $400 to $1,200 per year.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has recommended changes in long-term-care insurance policies:

-Coverage for a minimum of 24 consecutive months of care.

-No requirement of prior institutionalization.

-A limitation on pre-existing conditions that can negate the policy.

-No cancellation on the basis of age or health of the insured.

-A designated period in which the policyholder can return the policy.

-Disclosure of benefits.

When buying any type of insurance, consumers need to shop around. They should ask for a disclosure of benefits explaining the policy's provisions.

If you believe fraud was committed in the selling of your parents' policy, contact the office of the state insurance commission.

QUESTION: I'm a 61-year-old woman concerned about maintaining my health for as many years as possible. I read that bee pollen promotes good health and alfalfa can cure arthritis. Are these claims true?

ANSWER: No. The dietary products you cited are two of a number of fraudulent product claims aimed at older Americans. A report by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop warns against wasting your money on these and other food-quackery claims, such as:

-Superoxide dismutase ("SOD," a naturally occurring enzyme sold over the counter) and the nucleic acids DNA and RNA (the basic building blocks of life that can be taken orally) as "anti-aging remedies."

-Ginseng (a Chinese herb) as a curative for many ailments.

-Lecithin (a waxy substance widely found in plants and animals) combined with vinegar, kelp and vitamin B-6 for the prevention and cure of heart disease, and for weight loss.

-Para-aminobenzoic acid ("PABA," a member of the B vitamin family) as an essential or curative nutrient.

-Pangamic acid (so-called vitamin B-15) as an essential nutrient.

A 1984 report by the subcommittee on health and long-term care of the House Select Committee on Aging indicated that quackery costs the public over $10 billion a year. According to Koop, federal regulatory agencies don't have the resources to combat food quackery.

Send questions about growing older to On Aging, P.O. Box 84256, Los Angeles, Calif. 90073. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; individual answers cannot be provided.