hristy Leonard had to learn fast in
the weeks after her husband, Tony,
was diagnosed with stage IIIC
stomach cancer at age 39 in 2012.
The Fayetteville, North Carolina, resident
learned to give Tony injections to prevent
blood clotting and to operate a feeding tube
following surgery. During his chemotherapy
and radiation treatments, she juggled her
information technology job with caring for
Tony and their four children—they have
five—still living at home. She had no time
to reflect on her role.
“I didn’t even know what a caregiver
was,” Leonard, now 36 years old, recalled
during a panel discussion at a National
Institute of Nursing Research caregiving
conference in August 2017. “I showed up
at an event and they said, ‘Oh, you’re his
caregiver.’ I said, ‘Sure.’”
About 39. 8 million people in the U.S.
provide unpaid care for adults annually.
Of these, at least 2. 8 million care for people
whose primary problem is cancer, according to the 2016 report Cancer Caregiving in
the U.S., produced by the National Alliance
for Caregiving. But caregivers’ needs are
often overlooked by health care professionals, policy makers and even caregivers
themselves, who tend to neglect their own
psychological and medical care.
“Caregivers don’t get much recognition
for what they do,” says Jaymari Jones of
Kannapolis, North Carolina, whose husband,
Solomon, was diagnosed with stage IV
colorectal cancer in 2015. “Caregivers are
there when nobody else is there in the
middle of the night when your loved one
is sick and can’t get out of the bed. … You
have to dig deep down in your heart and
pull some stuff out you didn’t know you
had. It’s not like a nurse. You don’t get paid
to be a caregiver. It’s not like you can just
go to work, clock in and out and leave.”
By Kate Yandell
Caregivers for cancer patients find themselves playing a complex and vital role as
care shifts from the hospital to the home.