How to help a cancer patient’s caregiver

I often write columns that suggest ways that caregivers can help the person with cancer. Today, I want to suggest ways that the rest of us can help the caregiver. I’m defining caregiver as the person most involved in supporting the patient. It’s typically a spouse, child, parent, sibling, or friend. This is the person most likely to accompany the patient to appointments, most likely to handle practical matters, and most likely to be with the patient when everyone else goes home.

There’s a natural tendency for all of us to focus on the patient. We send them cards, inquire about their well-being, and keep them in our thoughts. I think it’s just as important to send that good energy towards the caregiver. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the caregiver, but rather that we tend to combine their needs with the needs of the patient. We write, “Thinking of you both,” but, when we do that, the caregiver gets second-billing.

My hope is that more of us support and recognize caregivers with kind words and gestures. Invite the caregiver out to lunch or to a movie. Take their minds off of cancer for an afternoon. A wonderful gift is to spend time with the patient, freeing the caregiver for a few hours. Get together with some friends and give the caregiver a gift certificate for a massage or day at the spa.

I know many people who have been both a cancer patient and a caregiver for someone with cancer. I always ask them which role is more difficult. Without exception, they answer that it’s more difficult to be the caregiver.

The notion of “It takes a village” applies here. It does take a village to help an individual – and the individual’s family – through cancer.

People often ask us at the Cancer Resource Center how they can help a friend with cancer. We routinely encourage them to reach out and connect with the caregiver. By lightening their load and brightening their spirits, we help not only the caregiver, but the patient as well.

 


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Original publication date: March 7, 2015

 

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