One often-overlooked piece of personal, unique cancer stories is the role of a caregiver. This blog post will help define what a caregiver (or caretaker) is in terms of being a helper for someone with a cancer diagnosis or going through treatment. We will also be covering some common misconceptions regarding who is or isn't a caregiver. Lastly, we'll provide resources to caregivers searching for support themselves as they give help to others.
Throughout this post, we'll be sharing our GRYT Health Perspective. These are personal stories given by members of the GRYT Health team. We're made up of cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers and want to give our unique perspectives to this subject.
What is a Cancer Caregiver?
A cancer caregiver supports a patient during cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship or last days of life.
A caregiver can give a wide range of support to a patient. This support can be physical (such as helping transport a patient to and from appointments) or mental (such as being a listener to venting sessions).
You can have more than one caregiver. Someone who provides you some amount of care can be known as a caregiver. This can include multiple people in your life, including family members, friends, or healthcare professionals.
The GRYT Health Perspective - Lauren
To me, a cancer caregiver is anyone who loves, supports and helps you through your diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Whether it's someone driving you to an appointment, cooking you dinner, walking your dog, asking your doctor questions, or even just listening.
Listening and acknowledging all the things that come along with a cancer diagnosis-the good, the bad and the ugly, no matter what.
My mom was my main caregiver during my diagnosis and treatment. Even though I'm almost 5 years cancer free, I still consider her my caregiver. She's my biggest supporter and always wants the best for my health and happiness.
There are some common misconceptions of who may or may not qualify as a caregiver.
One of these misconceptions is that to be a caregiver of someone, you have to take care of that individual at all times. This isn't feasible for a large number of caregivers. Some patients may not want to have a caregiver around 24/7!
Being a caregiver doesn't mean you need to live with the individual you're supporting. Even family, friends, or healthcare professionals you interact with online can be considered caregivers!
Another misconception is someone can only have one caregiver. Sure - you may have a "primary" caregiver who can provide more care than others. But your support network of people that help you can also be known as caregivers because they're doing what they can to help you.
Yet another misconception of what makes up a caregiver is someone who doesn't need care for themselves! Many of the resources we're sharing in this post go into detail about the need for a caregiver to care for themselves. A caregiver shoulders some of the emotional and physical burdens of helping care for someone, and that can add some additional stress.
The GRYT Health Perspective - Christian
My wife was my primary caregiver when I was going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2017. She knew when she needed to ask questions during meetings with my oncologist and how to make me comfortable after I got home from infusions.
One of the most memorable ways she helped me was being a listener when I needed to let my emotions out. She often didn't offer much advice after, but boy did I feel better letting my thoughts out.
I had close family members be part of my caregiver team. If they felt comfortable, I was able to have one of them accompany me during my infusions, which helped pass the time a little more quickly. They also drove me to and from the appointments, which I was thankful for.
Cancer Caregiver Resources
The following is a list of caregiver resources the GRYT Health team wanted to highlight for people seeking more help and support in being in the role of a cancer caregiver:
- Caring for the Caregiver - https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/caring-for-the-caregiver - This 20-page booklet contains some great guidance for topics including talking about pain and how to talk to family members about a diagnosis.
- Cancer Survivor Toolbox - https://canceradvocacy.org/resources/cancer-survival-toolbox/caring-for-the-caregiver/ - This audio program is one that primarily focuses on the survivorship aspect of the caregiver phase. We like some of the topics centered around cultural barriers and family discussions.
- Family Caregiver Alliance - https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-resources/caring-for-yourself/ - Not a cancer-specific resource but handy topics of articles for any caregiver.
- National Cancer Institute - Support for Caregivers of Cancer Patients - https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/caregiver-support - A pretty high-level overview of some tips to keep in mind as you give care to someone.