Cancer Caregiver Journey: Challenging Month

Barbara Baroff Kavanagh, MSW, LCSW

Dear Friends:

October has been a busy and challenging month. We held our 3rd and final Cancer Caregivers Conference for 2018. Nearly 100 attendees came from throughout Arizona, plus a few from Colorado and California. We brought together a faculty of cancer researchers, clinicians, social workers, nurses and cancer caregiver families. Our focus on young families with caregivers highlighted the special concerns of this population. Trying to take care of a spouse, while managing a job and children is an incredible balancing act that many families are faced with every day. We explored various strategies and resources for the caregiver and the role of the caregiver in communicating with the treatment team.

One cancer caregiver spoke movingly about when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer all of their lives changed and how hard he found it to suddenly become a caregiver – not just a husband, father and ‘breadwinner’.

A single mother from the Navajo reservation spoke movingly about what it was like when her youngest child, Shara, was diagnosed at age 10 with cancer and how it affected her entire family. Her 16-year old son, who had taken over the role of father after his father died, was the only one who could drive their truck. He drove his mother and sister to treatment for three years, sometimes even missing school. Thankfully, Shara is fully recovered and was able to drive herself and her family 350 miles from the Navajo Nation to be at our Conference. We were able to celebrate with them the good news that Shara, is now 18, and a freshman at the University of New Mexico. She is also the first in her family to attend college and is studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse.

Anna is in her early 40’s and caring for her husband Tom, who requires 24/7 care. She depends heavily on her 14-year old son, Joe. He is the ‘caregiver’ to his father when he comes home from school and on weekends so that his mother can do her shopping and other tasks to keep their household going. He spoke quietly about how much he loved his father and wanted to spend as much time as possible with his dad while he can. They watch baseball on TV and enjoy talking about sports and science, which is Joe’s interest. Our team of professional resources offered specific ways that they could help this young family. And, when they left the conference, they had actual resources and financial information to ease the demands on both mother and son.

There were so many inspiring stories shared and also a caring and skillful team of professionals ready to help. Our attendees left with practical strategies and resources to help them be healthier more effective caregivers.

We closed our Conference with the song “We are Family”, since we believe that we are ‘family’ to one another and can build a virtual community of cancer caregivers.  Our strength is in supporting each other to do one of the most difficult and important jobs of our lives.

Our Cancer Caregivers Booklet is now available on our website. It lists successful attributes of the Cancer Caregiver:

  • Perceives, Believes
  • Thinks, Analyzes, Plans
  • Stays Calm
  • Celebrates their Success
  • Counts their Blessings
  • Plays, Sees the Beauty
  • Believes they will Succeed

Few of us have all these attributes, but by focusing on achieving them we will become better caregivers and, most importantly, learn to take better care of ourselves.

Warm regards,

Barbara Kavanagh, MSW, Founder and CEO of AzMN and Cancer CaregiversAz