Caring for the caregiver

Karmanos recognizes November as Caregiver Appreciation Month

Karmanos Cancer Institute is proud to recognize the month of November as Caregiver Appreciation Month. This time of year naturally provides an opportunity to reflect on the gratitude we have for the things and people who affect our lives. For many cancer patients, caregivers are among those who they are especially grateful.

The role of caregiver

Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, patients are often accompanied by caregivers – family members or friends who stand alongside their loved ones and experience first-hand the emotional, physical and mental stress of the cancer journey. In the United States, 43.5 million people have taken on the role as caregiver over the last 12 months.

Caregiving can include everyday tasks such as helping a loved one with medications, driving them to doctor visits, preparing daily meals, scheduling appointments and helping with health insurance matters, just to name a few.

One caregiver whose husband was treated at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute said, “You have to take on the role of whatever your loved one needs.”

Caregivers also give emotional and spiritual support to help their loved one deal with tough decisions due to their illness.

“Caregivers are the unsung heroes of the cancer journey,” said Kathleen Hardy, LMSW, oncology social worker and counselor at Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Lawrence and Idell Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center in Farmington Hills.

How does Karmanos Cancer Institute care for the caregiver?

Knowing that connection between patients, caregivers and those in similar circumstances has never been more important, Karmanos has sought ways to address this need. As one caregiver said, “It does wonders to know, as a caregiver, you are not alone.” There are many wonderful supportive services available for cancer patients, including complementary therapies and integrative approaches that help improve the quality of life for the family. Karmanos also provides support groups and counseling sessions exclusively for caregivers. “We care for our caregivers as much as we care for our patients,” Hardy said. Truvella Murray, MSW, oncology social worker and case manager at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit said, “The staff at Karmanos Cancer Institute is there to ease the burden of a cancer diagnosis and the associated emotional, financial and physical burdens for patients and their families.” Having a program specifically designed to support caregivers is an opportunity for cancer clinicians and staff to further help their patients by making sure the needs of their caregivers are also met. Hardy said, “We strive to listen to the caregivers. We ask ‘what is helpful? What do you need that we can support you in?’”

Staying connected during COVID

Filling the role of caregiver can be difficult at any time but during the COVID-19 pandemic, fears and logistics can seem even more challenging. Caregivers have noted feeling more isolated than ever before during a time of uncertainty and stress. Our top priority at Karmanos is to keep our community safe. To continue offering services to caregivers and ensure that social distance can be maintained, all support groups have transitioned to an online platform. From providing educational sessions, healing arts programs, music therapies, counselling and meditation workshops, Karmanos seeks to keep individuals engaged, despite the current circumstances. Because of our virtual supportive services, Hardy said, “We have been connecting people from across the country. Connection is vital to the healing journey. These support groups are as important for the caregiver as they are for the patient.” One caregiver said, “I have been so isolated with COVID. I’ve actually come online for a Karmanos Cancer Institute program every day and I don’t know if I would’ve made it through without the people online that I’m now connected with.” Another caregiver said, “Cancer may have the inclination to isolate you but it also has the tremendous power of bonding you with others who understand.” Hardy has received countless remarks about how the online supportive services and integrative therapies have truly changed lives. She said, “I receive an overwhelming number of stories of people being able to connect virtually, and that’s exactly what patients and caregivers need throughout their cancer journey: connection.”

Supporting the caregiver in your life

Caregiving is often a 24/7 job and responsibility; however, nearly 50 percent of caregivers receive no extra help.

Murray reflects on her own findings, “Without help, caregivers begin to neglect their own health and wellbeing, as the caregiver has another life that they’re responsible for and dedicated to, as in the case of a mother devoted to her newborn.”

Hardy said that “caregivers need time to recharge; otherwise, they run out of energy and run into health problems of their own. It’s about learning to depend on others for help because a caregiver cannot carry the burden alone.”

“To all the family and friends of a caregiver, be there to offer help and then follow through,” Murray said.

Karmanos Cancer Institute also strives to address the physical, mental and emotional needs of the patient and the caregiver by providing the following services:

  • Healing Arts Program offers support and relieves stress for anyone living with cancer by incorporating meditation, yoga and tai chi.
  • Friends Like Me is a program centered around art therapy for children with a parent, sibling or grandparent with cancer.
  • Look Good Feel Better involves hands-on instruction and training on skin care, wig services and nail service.
  • Support Groups include sessions designed exclusively for men or women, as well as for caregivers or spouses of cancer patients.
  • Art and Music Therapy decreases stress and anxiety, while improving one’s general sense of well-being through various art forms.

For more information on the virtual support groups, educational programs and therapy services that are still being offered, please call 1-800-KARMANOS.