Caregivers are shoulders that never sag and hearts that don’t stop giving.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”.
-William Arthur Ward
At the heart of it, Thanksgiving calls us to acknowledge and celebrate our blessings be it through the food that nourishes our bodies or through the unconditional love of friends and family that nurture our souls. What better time than now to express our deep gratitude to caregivers - those who have given their time, effort and love taking care of a relative, often at a significant personal cost. November, coincidentally, is also National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the more than 40 million Americans who take care of a loved one.
Family caregivers spend 37 billion hours each year providing unpaid assistance to their loved ones — a contribution valued at $470 billion.
Rapid advances in early diagnosis and cancer treatment have resulted in increased survival, and in many cases, cancer is now a chronic rather than abruptly life-limiting illness. This has significantly increased the burden on caregivers, many of whom are not adequately prepared or trained for this often, decades long journey. It makes significant demands on their time and energy as well as requires them to perform tasks that are physically, emotionally, socially, and financially draining.
Today, more than 1 in 5 Americans are caregivers, an estimated 53.0 million adults in the United States.
Caregivers deserve not only our heartfelt gratitude but also a holistic support system that guides and helps them with their caregiving duties and their own wellbeing. There is strong data that advocates consistent training, cognitive behavioral therapy and functional evaluation to address various aspects of caregiver burden and unmet needs. These interventions have been proven to improve caregivers’ skills and confidence in their role. There is also a growing body of evidence for the benefits of mind-body interventions such as yoga and meditation to support optimal mental health, emotional resilience and overall quality of life of caregivers. Additionally, many support programs are now using personalized telehealth technologies to deliver support including medical alert systems, automatic pill dispensers, sensors and cameras with smartphone apps, vehicles that are more human centric and accommodate a variety of disabilities, apps that can help with appointments and health data and financial technologies that help caregivers with financial literacy, access and fraud prevention.
Nearly 60% of caregivers also work outside of the home. There are times when the burden of caregiving may be overwhelming and juggling a job along with it is a tough balancing act. Taking time off from work is often necessary for the health of the patient and the caregiver . Employees covered under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives.
Caregivers are healers and an integral part of your cancer care team. What they do can never be measured in words. But at this time of the year, we’d like to say a heartfelt ‘Thank you!’.