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Help for Cancer Caregivers

2017 March 15

By John Schall, Chief Executive Officer of Caregiver Action Network (CAN)

Rarely do you see it coming. A cancer diagnosis strikes out of nowhere and with all the force of a speeding train. Fortunately, many patients have family caregivers to help them face the challenges and struggles that come along with it.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, making it an ideal time to recognize all those affected by cancer, particularly those who are so often overlooked – the family caregivers.

Family caregivers should be acknowledged as an indispensable part of the healthcare team for their loved one with cancer. Family caregivers know more about their loved one’s day-to-day care needs than anyone else.

Family caregivers play a vital role in care because they are the one constant in the patient’s life. Cancer patients usually have multiple doctors. Nurses change shifts. But whether at home or in the doctor’s office, at the pharmacy or in the hospital, family caregivers are present with their loved ones across all care settings. They are there as full partners with their loved ones through it all.

Cancer isn’t only straining for the patient – it profoundly affects family members and is often particularly difficult and overwhelming for the family caregiver. Caregivers often juggle numerous tasks, in addition to managing a family, work and other priorities in their own lives. That’s why it’s imperative for caregivers to adequately care for themselves.

The long-term stress associated with being a cancer caregiver can be a blow to a caregiver’s mental and physical health. Caregivers have a higher incidence of major health conditions such as depression, hypertension, and diabetes, often directly as a result of the stress that comes from caregiving.  Caregivers must be sure to care for themselves so they can give their loved one the best care possible.

Unfortunately, caregivers too often overlook their own needs. Ignoring their health (sleeping, eating, exercising and visiting a doctor) further undermines caregivers’ health. What’s more, caregiver stress can erode the immune system and actually increase susceptibility to illness.

Though there never seem to be enough hours in the day, Caregiver Action Network (CAN) is here to help. In addition to the voluminous resources and advice available at CaregiverAction.org, CAN also created HelpForCancerCaregivers.org to specifically provide cancer caregivers with the information and resources they need to care for their loved one and to provide for their own health. If you make only one priority during Colon Cancer Awareness Month as a family caregiver, make sure your loved ones (and yourself) get colonoscopies on time!

Watching a loved one in a cancer struggle pushes everyone to the limit of their strength. Caregivers need to give themselves credit for what they’re doing, and be forgiving when they make mistakes. Most of all, caregivers should remember that they are doing the best they can in a labor of love.

Next: Easing Colonoscopy Fears

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