The affliction of cancer spreads to include not only the patients and their medical professionals directly involved, but also their caregivers—both formal and informal. In the United States, over 65 million people work as an informal caregiver at least 20 hours a week for a family member or a friend valued at approximately $375 billion a year, not including lost wages. With millions of people diagnosed with cancer annually, more and more families are taking on this informal caregiver role to assist their loved ones through the treatment and healing process.
While some cancer patients and their families find that it makes the most sense to hire formal caregivers to assist in cancer care, many family members sacrifice their own time to provide care. An informal caregiver has no one clear-cut definition; however, the general consensus is that informal caregivers are those who dedicate material amounts of their time to supporting someone with a medical condition like cancer without a monetary gain. Caregivers provide a variety of assistance, with a small survey showing most give emotional support, attend medical appointments, help with decision-making, coordinate medical care, and provide transportation, among others.
For many cancer patients, emotional well-being is a primary factor for how successful treatment can be. By being available to those with cancer, caregivers can alleviate some of the mental burden that comes with being diagnosed with cancer. As with fighting many diseases, stress can be a major roadblock to becoming healthy. Alleviating stress can come in many forms and is different for different patients depending on their own personality and experiences.
When it comes to treating cancer, having someone like a caregiver coordinate medical care allows patients to focus more on the physical well-being and less on the details. Knowing the appointments are scheduled and confirmed can ease anxiety around treatment and follow-up care.
Although planning and scheduling medical appointments is important, many caregivers go a step further and attend these appointments. Providing transportation (even if a patient can drive themselves) eliminates the overall stress—such as finding parking in a city, hospital or office—of these trips. Caregivers can drop off the patient and handle the other technicalities.
On top of getting the patient to the consultation on time, caregivers can be of considerable assistance during the actual appointment. Signing a patient in, helping with paperwork, taking detailed notes, and asking intelligent questions can all work together to maximize the value of these appointments.
Once appointments are completed and information has been obtained, patients must enter the decision-making process where they determine how they want to manage their treatment and routine. The ultimate decision lies with the patient, but having the ability to talk these choices out with someone who is knowledgeable about the situation can lead to more education decisions.
Caregivers provide a multitude of services depending on the specific needs of their patient. Oftentimes, the task of caregiver falls to those closest to the one affected by cancer, regardless of their knowledge on both cancer treatments and caregiving as a whole. Caregivers are a key part of cancer management and treatment—no matter what the cancer is.