This Season, Be a Caregiver to a Caregiver

12/16/2014 05:02 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2015

"I didn't see a doctor or a dentist for 17 months." The man who said this, a tall, lean, nice-looking gentleman in his late sixties, wasn't complaining. He was just telling us, a group of cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and former caregivers gathered for a symposium at Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center, a little bit about what life was like while he cared for his wife until she died of cancer.

I knew exactly what he was talking about.

As an autism mom and former cancer caregiver, there have been long stretches of time when the only medical professionals I saw were those I took my son or late husband to see.

In fact, I can recall thinking, during one of the endless winter afternoons I spent keeping Stu company in the hospital's infusion center, how great it would be if somebody came around offering flu shots to the caregivers. I'm positive I wouldn't have been the only one to take advantage of the opportunity, and equally certain I wouldn't have been alone in asking if I might get a mammogram, too.

My husband and I even kidded about how helpful it would be if, while he slept and I sat there, I could get the car inspected or my hair cut. This resulted in us going off on one of our goofy tangents and deciding that, someday, when we had our very own chemotherapy infusion center, patients would (of course) get only the best, latest, and most promising care.

And caregivers would get caregivers.

The bit about the infusion center was a joke. We didn't want an infusion center. We wanted a cure. But the idea of caregivers getting help is something we were serious about.

When my husband first got sick, a very dear friend told me that caregiving isn't a race. It's a marathon. And the only way caregivers make it to the finish line is with the support of family, friends and sometimes, total strangers. At this season of giving, consider a gift of caring for a caregiver. Make a meal. Shovel the walk. Cover for a few hours so the caregiver can do... whatever he or she wants to do.

And if you don't know anyone who's taking care of a sick spouse, elderly parent, or special needs child? Call your local nursing home, hospital or hospice. Ask your pastor or the principal of your kids' school. Guaranteed they have a list of those who could use a helping hand.

Nothing beats the gifts of time and kindness. Give both, and you'll be amazed by what you get back.