Friday, August 12, 2011

Ribbons for Caregivers?

This week I participated in a great seminar on cancer and caregiving presented by the organization To Life! Tons of new information on genetic testing and hormone replacement therapies. Answers to the questions you didn’t even know that you wanted to ask. But it was –again—the conversations with caregivers that blew me away. How much life caregivers spend without even knowing how deeply they are committed or how much it might be affecting their life and health.

I always think that people must know the impact of caregiving and then each time I talk to a group it’s there again: caregivers are working fulltime, raising kids, caring for at least one elderly parent and a spouse or partner with cancer. And they are apologizing about some part of their life they are not doing well: missed a friend’s birthday; haven’t followed international news; missed a new movie. And the big thing they are skipping is attention to their own healthcare and that has disastrous effects for the caregiver and the family.

Caregivers skip annual physicals, mammograms, blood tests, dexascans, teeth cleaning, medication monitoring. Nobody wants to go to another doctor when you are actively caring for someone with cancer—you see far too many medical waiting rooms—with awful magazines and terrible TV—and so caregivers get sick.

We know that breast cancer is hard and colon cancer is hard and lung cancer is hard but caregiving is hard too and mostly it goes unacknowledged by medical professionals even though there are big medical consequences.

So, what color is the ribbon for caregivers? Should it be a rainbow because caregiving encompasses every serious illness? Or should the caregiver ribbon be clear plastic because caregiving and its consequences are still invisible?

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