A cancer diagnosis changes the life of many. The patient is not the only person affected. Life also changes for those who love and care for the person with cancer. The biggest change occurs for the person who will help the patient get through the cancer experience- the Caregiver. The question is “Who is caring for the caregiver?” These are 5 things that each cancer patient needs to know to help their caregiver. Caregivers are the unsung heroes of cancer survivorship.
1. Primary caregivers are a major part of the health care team because they are doing things like: giving medications on time, helping manage side effects, communicating with the medical professionals, taking the patient to appointments, and keeping other family and friends up to date on what is happening. This primary caregiver does all of this while trying to manage normal day to day activities. Becoming a caregiver is like taking on a second job. It is not an easy job. And it must be done with a positive attitude as the cancer patient often draws strength from the caregiver. Ensuring that the caregiver has what he/she needs is a role that a friend or a secondary family member can take on.
2. Depression and exhaustion are two major concerns with primary caregivers. The American Cancer Society has a Checklist for Caregivers that gives excellent advice. I strongly recommend that survivors, primary caregivers and family/friends utilize this resource. It offers tips and insights to keep the caregiver healthy inside and out.
3. Support groups can be an essential part of a cancer patient’s healing. But the caregiver will benefit from support too. They do not usually have time to join support groups in person, so the internet can be just what is needed. There are online support groups that are disease specific or cancer in general. Find the one that is easiest to use and has like-minded people. The chat rooms can be a great place to trade information and to learn from each other’s experiences. Sometimes it serves as a place to share your fears and frustrations with others who understand what you are going through. The right online chat room should be a safe place without judgment. I only ask that you use caution when taking advice regarding medical treatment and medication. Always seek the counsel of the patient’s health care professional. This includes beginning any new supplements. Some herbs and vitamins are very powerful and may interfere with some medications or treatments.
4. Know the Rights for a Caregiver. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that guarantees up to 12 weeks off from work per year to take care of a seriously ill family member. The employer must hold your job and not penalize you. However, they are NOT required to pay you. FMLA only applies to companies that employ more than 50 employees or are public agencies. Learn more here.
5. The caregiver is likely the point person for a number of legal issues as well. An Advanced Directive is a document that can help the patient to spell out their wishes in regards to their overall health care, with special attention to end-of-life care. The caregiver may also be asked to become the Durable Power of Attorney for health care decision. This has nothing to do with money or finances, but only to help carry out health care decisions. Ask your attorney or physician to help get these forms started. I recommend that these forms be completed early, while the patient is capable of making sound decisions. This really takes the pressure off of the caregiver and gives them the legal support that may be necessary when family members disagree.
Every cancer survivor needs a strong, compassionate caregiver. This caregiver needs special attention and care themselves.