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Help Wanted: The Unsung Heroes of Cancer Care Need Support Also

By Dr. Larry Frase

Publication: East Texas Review, Tyler/Longview

By Larry Frase, MD, Texas Oncology-Longview

Help Wanted:

Rewarding, demanding opportunity in strategic healthcare support, including medical technology, complex medicine administration, and general nursing care; household maintenance; meal preparation; lawn care; financial management; chauffeuring; counseling. Part-time (i.e., position often is additional to full-time employment) with potential for long-term engagement.

Skills needed: ability to manage multiple competing urgent priorities; deftness in understanding and communicating medical concepts; steadiness amid crisis including life and death situations; ability to function with little sleep, amid high stress, and for extended periods of time without time off; wisdom of Solomon, patience of Job.

If this job description sounds familiar, you likely are one of the more than half a million Texans who served as a caregiver for an elderly or ailing loved one this year, including the 110,000 Texans diagnosed with cancer in 2012.

If this position is not familiar, but strikes you as overwhelmingly challenging, then I ask you to think of your friends or relatives who hold this job and consider how you can help them.

In our community-based practice, I frequently meet the unsung heroes who assume the “always on” positions alongside their loved ones who are cancer patients. My colleagues and I are deeply moved by their unlimited compassion. We thank them for all their sacrifices and support.

Every cancer “case” is a story about real people – the patient and their supporting cast of loved ones. For example, when Texas Oncology patient Barbara Warf was diagnosed with lymphoma, friend Violet Parsons and her husband accepted the job without hesitation – attending appointments, daily calls, and so much more. The Parsons even scheduled a family vacation so that they could support Barbara during chemotherapy.

Barbara’s reaction: “Violet is my angel.”

Caregivers indeed are angels. But they are angels who need angels.

Researchers have confirmed that the emotional, physical, and financial toll caregivers pay is significant, and that they need support, encouragement, and respite in order to stay effective in this demanding role. Caregivers, like cancer patients, are at high risk for depression and anxiety, stress-related health problems, and loss of income due to missed work.

Thank a caregiver – every little bit helps

During November, National Family Caregiver month, I urge you to take time to express your thanks for these critically important partners in the cancer fight. Many caregivers who could use help the most are least likely to ask for it.

Your support can take many forms. Even a simple acknowledgement can make a big difference. The Texas Oncology team encourages you to devote at least one hour this month to helping a caregiver. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Give a caregiver day off – guilt free
  • Drop off supplies for a favorite hobby (such as knitting yarn or a new book)
  • Invite the caregiver’s children for a play date
  • Ask for a list and run errands
  • Organize and schedule other friends to provide dinner
  • Mow the lawn
  • Donate house cleaning services
  • Stay in touch and be a good listener

Caregiving is extraordinarily difficult, but meaningful and rewarding. For the job of supporting caregivers during this season of gratitude and giving, I hope you agree with me that we all are hired.

For more information about thanking and supporting caregivers, please visit www.TexasOncology.com/GivingThanks.

Larry Frase, MD is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Longview, 1300 N. 4th Street in Longview, Texas.

This story originally appeared in the East Texas Review. To view this story, please click here.

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