Heather & Cam

November was National Family Caregivers month, a period of time devoted to recognizing the efforts, sacrifices, and hardships of family caregivers across the country. It comes at the beginning of the holiday season and includes Thanksgiving, a time when many people visit with family and are thinking about the things they are grateful for. In a way, that is also the spirit of National Family Caregivers Month – to express thanks for those who spend time in caring for their loved ones who are ill or otherwise unable to take care of themselves.

Nationwide recognition of the effort of family caregivers began in the early 1990s, when the Caregiver Action Network made an effort to promote the endeavors of those who cared for parents, children, and other family members that needed assistance on a regular basis. That recognition became enshrined as a yearly national observance in 1997, when Bill Clinton signed the first proclamation declaring the month of November a time to recognize and honor family caregivers around the country. Every president since Clinton has continued to uphold this tradition, including this year, when President Barack Obama signed the 2016 proclamation.

According to the Caregiver Action Network, the purpose the National Family Caregivers Month is to do four things:

  • Engender awareness about issues that family caregiver face on a daily basis
  • Recognize the sacrifices and achievements of those who care for family members
  • Provide educational opportunities to family caregivers
  • Raise support for those who dedicate their lives, in full or part, to caring for family

At the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, we embrace all of these aspects of National Family Caregivers Month and work hard to make sure that caregivers are a focus of our efforts to fight mesothelioma and place a ban on asbestos.

Why Family Caregivers Are Important

Many people need care for various reasons, whether temporarily or on an ongoing basis. Throughout history, since even before modern medicine and social structures provided a healthcare system, family members have cared for their loved ones in many different ways. Now, even with doctors and hospitals and urgent care facilities, family caregivers still provide a much-needed level of aid for loved ones.

This is especially true with diseases like cancer where patients have many needs that can change from day to day, treatment to treatment. Having someone who can help make sure the person is taking their medicines at the right times, getting enough food (and the right kinds of food) to eat, and watching out for signs of trouble is an important part of fighting this terrible disease – and something that individual patients often cannot do for themselves. The needed care often comes from a spouse, parent, or adult child, but it can also extend to nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, grandchildren, in-laws, and less formal “family” members.

Eleven-year mesothelioma survivor Heather Von St. James has talked extensively about how the support her husband Cam provided during her treatment and recovery was critical for overcoming the terrible disease. Whether together or apart – such as the long period of time when Heather stayed with her parents while Cam returned home to work – he was there to provide support in every way that he could.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are more than 52 million family caregivers providing care to loved ones over the age of 20 who are either ill or disabled – about three-fifths of those are for people aged 50 or older. These unpaid caregivers give their time, money, and emotional support to their family members simply out of love and devotion. Most of them (more than half) spend more than eight hours per week providing some form of care, and nearly one-fifth of family caregivers spend the equivalent of a full-time job (40 hours or more per week) providing such care.

Given the extent to which such care is necessary, if all of those people had to rely on the healthcare system as it stands to day, many would go neglected and costs would skyrocket even more than they already have. The importance of family caregivers can never be overstressed.

Our Partners in National Family Caregivers Month

For National Family Caregivers Month, the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance teamed up with a few wonderful organizations that offer unique support resources for caregivers.

One of those organizations, Cariloop, works to provide comprehensive services and tools to help families plan for a manage the care of their loved ones. They offer healthcare coaches that are accessible via phone or video chat, to help caregivers through steps of the process that might be challenging for them. Cariloop also offers access to information on service providers and care facilities. Together, we teamed up to feature Cameron Von St. James’ caregiving story, and how it relates to some of the constants in a caregiver's life.

Cancer Hope Network is another organization that has shared the story of the Von St. James family, focusing on Cam’s experience as a long distance caregiver. The Cancer Hope Network works to provide support to those undergoing cancer treatment, along with their families. Pairing current cancer patients with cancer survivors, they strive to instill hope and encourage patients along their journey.

To provide a deeper look into hospice and palliative care we’ve also partnered with Hospice of Western Reserve. They provide an array of different care options including, but not limited to private home care, assisted living and also nursing centers. Also, their blog offers a handful of helpful articles pertaining to the many different emotional aspects of caregiving such as grief, hope and empathy.

We want to thank all of our partners in helping to spread the word about the efforts of family caregivers and providing opportunities to share stories about caregivers for others to see.