During the cancer diagnosis and treatment, the focus is very much on the patient, the one going through the work-up, the biopsies, the chemotherapy or radiation, the surgery, the side effects. But often, there is someone else who may be just as affected by the diagnosis and treatment — the caregiver.
It’s rare that I see a new patient, someone with a new diagnosis of cancer, who comes alone to the first visit with me. There is usually a very concerned wife or husband – or a best friend, a child, a sister or a brother, a church member – sitting right beside his or her loved one, holding their hand or patting their knee, ready with a notebook and pen to write down the important details of the cancer that I’m about to share. And, without fail, that same caregiver is at almost all the visits to come, all the appointments for chemotherapy and beyond.
And, while it’s never intentional, it is easy for the caregiver to be forgotten along the way. The attention is necessarily – and rightly so – focused on the person who is dealing with cancer, but the caregiver is generally carrying quite a heavy load. The caregivers I’ve encountered are often silent, going through the experience without complaining. It seems intuitive, but medical literature tells us that caregivers are more likely to become ill themselves, have higher rates of depression and insomnia, have more emotional stress and financial burden.
It’s not uncommon — in fact, I’d say it’s VERY common — for caregivers to neglect themselves while caring for their loved one. They may stop exercising. They may not get enough sleep. And often, they don’t focus on eating healthy — or eating at all. It’s just not a priority. Just ask my mother – she’s been known to eat potato chips for dinner while caregiving for my father and my grandmother recently.
If you’d like to help out a friend with cancer, I’d encourage you to think about doing something special for his or her caregiver as well. A simple gift of a homemade meal will not only provide a nourishing alternative to fast food or a peanut butter sandwich, but it will also lift up their spirits and nourish the soul.
I’ve listed a few recipe ideas below for meals that should be easy to make ahead and are freezer-friendly. Just remember to package up the meal in disposable pans to minimize any clean-up. Your task is to make the caregiver’s life easier, not make her spend an hour washing dishes afterward. Now, go forth and cook!