Caring Currents

Call Us Cancer "Carepartners"

Last updated: May 14, 2008


In a wonderful post this week, American Cancer Society blogger Dr. Len Lichtenfeld writes about the unique challenges of caring for someone with cancer, suggesting that the term "carepartner" would be a better description of the role. Calling it, "one of the most special partnerships you can imagine," Dr. Len explains that when you're helping someone you love battle cancer, you're right there on the front lines with them. Whether you're an adult child, spouse, partner, or friend, those caring for cancer patients are "the ones who listen, the ones who help, the ones who check out the Internet for the latest and best places to get treatment," he writes.

His thinking resonated deeply with me, and I'm guessing it will for others caring for a loved one with cancer, or any serious medically challenging disease.  From the moment patients hear the word "cancer," they're asked to absorb an incredible amount of information, much of it technical. It's simply too much for most people; they have to have help managing their treatment. Then there are the decisions -- big, big decisions with serious long-term consequences. Surgery first, followed by radiation, or chemo first and surgery afterwards? Is it any surprise that most of us caring for cancer patients turn into health researchers almost overnight?

The term "carepartner" came to Dr. Len as he listened to a group of caregivers talk about the burden they shared with the loved ones they cared for. One woman whose husband had cancer explained that she felt she qualified as  a "cancer survivor" as well. I know that feeling well; in the years since my father's death from esophageal cancer, I've never stopped feeling like someone who has fought the cancer war myself. This thought popped into my mind again this week as I  sat in the chemo room with a close friend who's battling breast cancer, trying to call the nurse's attention to the fact that the IV line wasn't inserted properly and she was in pain.

Carepartner? I gotta say, it sounds -- and feels -- just about right. Do you agree?

Image by Flickr user JeffK used under the creative commons attribution license.