02/02/2013 10:10 am ET Updated Apr 04, 2013

Caring for the Caregiver

In the world of f-bomb cancer and other illnesses, a caregiver is someone who is responsible for attending to the physical, emotional, or financial needs of another person.

There are formal and informal caregivers. Formal caregivers are trained professionals paid for their services. Hiring professional caregivers is expensive -- really expensive, as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, hiring formal, professional caregivers is often cost-prohibitive for the people who need it most. This often leaves family and/or friends to become informal caregivers who provide care without pay.

Caregivers are all around us. In fact, three in ten households in America report that at least one person has served as an unpaid caregiver. That equates to nearly 65 million people in the U.S. who are caregivers for an ill, aged or disabled family member or friend during a given year. Isn't that a staggering number?

As a nurse-turned-patient, I can say with 150 percent confidence that being a caregiver involves some of the hardest work in the world. In fact, I can't overstate how difficult being a caregiver is. It is painstakingly difficult, physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically and, it must be said, financially.

Most caregivers are compassionate, generous people who are eager to take care of everyone else (especially someone they love), but it comes at the expense of their own needs:

  • Eating? Not often or healthily.
  • Sleeping? Days on end with barely a wink.
  • Bathing? Infrequently.
  • Time away from the bedside? Rarely.

Acknowledging the caregiver, whether paid or unpaid, is paramount as they too need care. There are some simple (yet valuable) points to consider when it comes to caring for a caregiver:

  • The work that caregivers do is often taken for granted. Saying "please" and "thank you" means so very much.
  • Remember to ask the caregiver about his or her personal life. With the focus on the patient, it's easy to forget that the caregiver's life matters too.
  • Talk about things other than the patient's condition. Everyone will benefit when the conversation is not always about the patient.
  • Give the caregiver adequate breaks or time away from their care-taking duties. This is huge! I frequently sit with a patient while a caregiver would take a shower, walk around the block or even go out for dinner.
  • Encourage the caretaker to interact with others outside of caring for the patient. Communication with the outside world avoids isolation.
  • Also encourage activities totally different from the caretakers responsibilities such as going for a walk, watching a movie, etc.
  • Keep humor alive and well. In serious situations, laughter eases tension.

Here are some additional resources to learn more about how to care for a caregiver:

I really can't overstate how difficult it is to be a caregiver. Caring for a caregiver will go a long way in his or her ability to in turn care for a loved one who is ill, which turns out to be a real Silver Lining.

To read more about Hollye's holistic and humorous journey over, around, above and below breast cancer, please visit her blog, The Silver Pen ( You may email her at or follow her on Twitter @hollyejacobs.

For more by Hollye Harrington Jacobs, click here.

For more on caregiving, click here.