As the holidays approach, many of us think fondly of our family and friends and look forward to spending time with them. Family and friends can be a source of comfort, support and joy. For many people with cancer family and friends assume the very special and vital role of caregiver. Caregivers are typically family and friends who provide important and useful physical and emotional support to a cancer patient. Cancer patients often cite the help they receive from their caregivers as being critical to their recovery. At the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute's annual Cancer Survivors' Celebration, many cancer survivors will offer a heartfelt "thank you" to their caregivers stating that they could not have done it without them.

Being a caregiver can be both rewarding and challenging and will vary greatly depending on the situation and there are many ways to be a terrific caregiver. Caregivers may provide help on a daily basis or as needed. They can give medications, arrange and coordinate appointments, provide transportation, help with meals and housekeeping, offer emotional support, shop, provide child care, etc. Each situation is unique and, as the disease and treatment vary, so does the role of the caregiver.

Caregivers can live in the home, share duties or offer care from a distance. A live-in caregiver is usually a spouse or partner and generally assumes the primary caregiver role. It can also be a nearby neighbor or friend that provides care. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, most caregivers live within 20 minutes of the person they care for. Some care providers share their role with others based on who is most able to perform each task. Working with family members in a stressful situation can be a challenge; it can also bring families closer together. Many people may find themselves providing care from a distance. A long-distance caregiver will often provide coordination of services by phone or email. Care giving from a distance can be extra stressful, since the usual worries tend to become magnified.

Some of the challenges of care giving can include:

- Stress: physical, emotional and financial;

- Balancing family, work and personal time;

- Feeling isolated and lonely; and

- Lack of privacy.

While there are numerous challenges to being a caregiver, many find it very fulfilling. Here are some of the benefits of care giving:

- It makes a difference in the quality of life and well-being of the cancer patient;

- It gives the caregiver an opportunity to develop or strengthen their relationship with the patient; and

- It shows respect and caring to the patient and their family.

Caregivers need to remember to take care of themselves while providing care to the cancer patient.

While care giving can be challenging, there are thankfully many resources available to help caregivers. The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is happy to help direct local caregivers to these resources.

The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services and survivorship, 100 percent of Cancer Institute resources are invested in this region. For more information about the cancer institute, visit www.cancernepa.org or call (800) 424-6724.