*This post was written by Marie Borsellino, B.S.N., R.N., O.C.N., oncology nurse navigator for the Managing Cancer at Work Program.

In November 2012, the Obama administration issued a proclamation that recognizes the challenges faced by the approximately 65 million Americans who care for their sick, elderly, and disabled relatives and friends. President Obama said:
“National Family Caregivers Month is a time to reflect on the compassion and dedication that family caregivers embody every day. As we offer our appreciation and admiration for their difficult work, let us also extend our own offers of support to them and their loved ones…Family caregivers have an immeasurable impact on the lives of those they assist, but their hours are long and their work is hard. Many put their own lives on hold to lift up someone close to them.”

In a MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Costs, it has been reported that six in ten family caregivers are employed. 73% of family caregivers who care for someone over the age of 18 either work or have worked while providing care; 66% have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely; and 1 in 5 family caregivers have had to take a leave of absence. While caregiving for a loved one while working poses many challenges for the employee the results of a quality of life study done by the American Cancer Society in 2005 show that some caregivers benefited from being employed and better emotional adjustment. The report also states that one quarter of all employees are acting as caregivers. The reasons the employed caregivers did better emotionally are not outlined but might be attributed to support from their employer and co-workers that helped to reduce the distress of cancer caregivers to make their caregiving experience manageable and more meaningful. For many of us, our workplace is another supportive environment.

I asked Terry Langbaum, Chief Administrative Officer, Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, to weigh in. “It is important to recognize that caregiving is hard work – emotionally and physically. At times, it requires the employee to give up preferred activities to provide care, reassurance or transportation to the sick family member. It can be disruptive to the employee’s routine, and cause him/her to lose time from work that would otherwise be vacation or sick time. It can cause employees considerably anxiety and stress, which can impact their ability to function well on the job.

A supportive work environment will provide a family caregiver with encouragement, recognize the time and effort they are spending to benefit their loved one, and support the employee during this time of concern about their loved one. Work also provides a diversion from that worry, and can be distracting and satisfying to the caregiver.

Many caregivers will feel torn between obligations at work, and obligations for their loved one. Managers and supervisors need to treat everyone fairly and follow the human resources policies, but they can be an extension of the support system for a family under stress due to medical conditions.

So if you are a caregiver or know of someone who is acting as a caregiver let’s recognize the personal sacrifice it takes. Some of us are caregiver to multiple people at once or over a period of time. This month is dedicated to recognizing these unsung heroes. We may all be there one day caregiving or receiving care.

Read more from the AARP and a Gallup poll. Watch our video on caregiving in the Fine Print of Cancer video series:

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