Caring for someone with a serious disease such as cancer is no easy task. It’s a 24/7 job that requires caregivers to be mentally and physically alert, as well as emotionally sound.
Stephen Peck knows this firsthand.
“Many years ago, I lost my first wife to metastatic breast cancer, and it was pretty tough,” Peck said during an interview with CURE®. “During the time she was ill, I was very active in getting information on what to do, how to talk to the doctors, learn about her disease and be a good care provider. Because I had never been through that before, I had a really difficult time getting information, I had to go from one place to another.”
So, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Peck decided to “give back to the community what (he) learned the hard way,” and started Caring Men, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing resources, community and education for family caregivers — men, in particular — who have a loved one with cancer.
After all, Peck, who is a veteran, said that being a caregiver is like being in combat and requires a healthy attitude, being physically fit and eating and sleeping well, since caregiving can come with tasks such as remembering and taking patients to doctors’ appointments, learning about the disease and being up in the middle of the night to help the patient with side effects or other situations — all of which require that the person doing the caring is mentally and physically sound.
“(Caregiving) is not something that can be taken lightly. You have to be tough and you have to be in shape,” he said, mentioning that cancer caregivers are like “guardian angels” that their loved ones rely on. “You’re running the marathon and you have to really understand what you need to do to stay strong.”
However, for many men, the mental health aspect can fall by the wayside. According to the nonprofit organization Mental Health America, approximately 10% of men experience anxiety of depression, but less than half receive mental health treatment, likely due, in part, to long-standing stigmas.
Further, research published this year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that only 16% cancer practices reported that they routinely screened cancer caregivers for distress, while 12.6% of surveyed practices said that they routinely identify, screen and provide at least one referral to caregivers who are reportedly experiencing distress.
Peck said that men should not shy away from getting mental health help.
“All men (who are caring for someone with cancer) need help, because when you see a loved one dying, it’s tough. It’s really hard,” he said. “(The patient) themselves are traumatized over what’s happening, and that, by itself, traumatizes you (as the caregiver). The most difficult thing I had to do was talk to my children about their mother’s illness. How do you tell your kids that their mom is not doing well?”
CaringMen.org offers resources from institutions such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute that can help caregivers face these issues.
“We’re here to deliver that information … we’re looking to be purveyors of information so that men and women and children can get information to be a good caregiver,” Peck explained.
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