In the wake of a cancer diagnosis, the focus is on the patient. But November is National Family Caregivers Month, which offers an opportunity to expand the spotlight to caregivers who do everything from taking notes during medical visits and keeping loved ones company during treatments to caring for them at home as they cope with side effects.
As more cancer care is delivered in outpatient treatment centers such as Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, the burden on cancer caregivers is evolving. In the past, people with cancer received more of their care in hospitals, where trained doctors and nurses oversee treatment. Now it’s more common for patients to be cared for at home during their treatments and in the months after.
The economic implications of caregivers are significant. According to an AARP report, Valuing the Invaluable, released in March 2023:
Family caregivers provided the equivalent of $600 billion in unpaid care in 2021 as they devoted 36 billion hours to tending to sick friends and relatives, including those with cancer.
The financial estimate increased from $470 billion in 2017, part of a trend that has seen the cost attached to family caregiving grow over the past quarter century.
About 38 million people identify as family caregivers.
The need for caregiving is expected to rise as adults ages 65 and older will outnumber children under 10 by 2034. At the same time, the proportion of the population able to serve as caregivers is expected to be impacted by a myriad of reasons.
Another important consideration for caregivers is self-care. Self-care in the midst of caregiving is vital, but caregivers don’t always feel like they can take the time and space they need to focus on themselves. Yet when they do, both the patient and caregiver are better equipped to continue with their treatment.
Fred Hutch has developed a package of stories to support and celebrate the role of caregivers in cancer care: