Who is a caregiver?
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the first community-based non-profit organization focused on addressing the needs of caregivers, it is estimated that more than 65 million people in the United States provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year. Caregivers are a necessary extension of the healthcare team. When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, assuming the role of caregiver, whether you’re a family member or friend, has its unique challenges. With limited research and greater focus placed on the actual cancer survivor herself, the specific needs and overall health of the caregiver often get overlooked.
As the survivorship movement continues to flourish, nationally-recognized organizations like the National Cancer Institute (NCI) acknowledge the important role caregivers play in a survivor’s life. In their definition of survivorship, the NCI includes anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis until the end of life, as well as family, friends, and caregivers of survivors who are impacted by the diagnosis.
In 2010, the American Cancer Society completed an innovative eight year study entitled “National Quality of Life Survey for Caregivers”. This first of its kind long-term, nationwide study highlighted several findings regarding caregivers:
- Fear of cancer coming back is a two-way street.
- The time and effort of a caregiver is extremely valuable.
- Caregivers may have unrealistic expectations.
- Caregivers can find meaning in their experience.
- Caregivers need a strong support system.
- As caregivers, husbands and wives each have unique strengths.
- Caregiving is demanding.
Important research such as this further emphasizes the significant role of national organizations like the Family Caregiver Alliance and the National Alliance for Caregiving that focus on information, resources, and support for caregivers.