A caregiver is someone who takes you to your doctor’s appointments, drives you to and from treatment, helps with activities of daily living, listens to you and lends a shoulder to cry on. A diagnosis such as cancer can shake the foundation of any family and caregivers play a vital role for loved ones diagnosed with a serious illness. Not only is the patient required to drop everything to focus on their treatment plan; caregivers must also, to some extent, put their life on hold to fill an important role.
All too often, however, caregivers’ needs go unmet and the burden they share goes unrecognized. Doctors, nurses, family and friends make sure the patient comes first, and rightfully so. However, caregivers also suffer as they watch a loved one battle illness. Caregivers can feel as though they’re not doing enough to make their loved one comfortable or happy, despite their heroic efforts. Caregivers can also receive the brunt of a patient’s anger, since typically this role is filled by a person close to the patient.
The Journal of General Internal Medicine recently released ethical guidelines addressing patient, physician, and caregiver relationships. The medical community is increasingly respecting the role of caregivers and offering guidance on how to develop that relationship. The guidelines aim to focus on a family-centered approach to treatment thereby decreasing the caregivers’ susceptibility to stress-related illness. One such recommendation states that physicians should be more accessible and allow for more effective communication not only to the patient but also to the caregivers.
Remember that it’s important for caregivers to be mindful of their own health and needs. Take time out to go for a walk, rest, go to a movie. Many communities offer respite services to give you some time away. It can also be very helpful to seek out a caregivers support group in your local community. Strength is gained when experiences are shared.
For more information and resources for caregivers, please visit the following sites:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/familyfriends – National Cancer Institute
http://www.cancer.net/patient/Coping/Caregiving American Society of Clinical Oncology
http://www.cfad.org/ Caring from a Distance
http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/home.jsp Family Caregiver Alliance
Submitted by Heather Matthews, Patient Navigator Cancer Research Specialist