July 23, 2019
In the treatment and care of an individual afflicted with cancer, the role of family members is very important. In most cases, the family caregivers are spouse, parents, siblings and children and they form the backbone to the patient. During this time, the role of a family caregiver is extremely important and vital. Among the family members, one individual takes the major responsibility and is known as the primary or principal caregiver. Caregiving is a chronic stressor, and the providers often experience negative psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects on their daily lives and health.
In cancer, unlike with acute ailments like malaria or dengue, or non fatal chronic ailments like arthritis, the treatment is for a considerable period of time and depending on the stage may range from a minimum of 3 months to almost a year. Initially, when an individual is diagnosed with cancer, it causes sadness, anxiety, anger, or even hopelessness in the family members. In worse cases, the patients and other family members can also suffer from clinical levels of depression and severe levels of anxiety and stress reactions. However when the need for initiating treatment gets recognized, the family members set aside the personal grief and prioritize initiating the treatment.
Care giving for a family member with cancer is labor intensive. This is because the level of care required by the care recipient is greater than the burden experienced by those caring for other chronic ailments like arthritis and diabetes. The principal caregiver in specific will have to multitask during the care giving responsibilities, arranging finances, preparing/arranging meals, coordinating medication and other treatment-related activities and this is very true in the case of caring for cancer patients. The condition for the principal caregiver is worse if they are suffering from age related ailments like arthritis, diabetes and worse when arranging finances are an issue.
To substantiate this studies have shown that when compared to non-caregivers, caregivers often experience psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects that will subsequently affect the general health. This is principally because during treatment and care the focus of the family is on the afflicted member and seldom on the caregiver/s. The principal caregivers to cancer patients undergo severe emotional distress, fatigue and sleep impairment, which cumulatively will affect their general health. In most cases the caregivers providing higher levels of support are more likely to postpone their own health care needs and this can contribute to negative outcomes like impaired immune system function and coronary heart disease, and early death.
Family caregivers stress is an extremely important but sadly neglected aspect of cancer care in India. Family caregivers play an important role in the management of cancer and enlisting their cooperation and including them as the unit of care from the outset are important for effective management of cancer. At MIO, attempts are made at including family in treatment planning, decision making and implementation and that supportive strategy like psychological counseling and healthy de-stressing methods are suggested for the caregivers. This is very important as a stress free caregiver will always contribute better towards care of a person afflicted with cancer and the rest of the family.