July 16, 2001 -- It's a sunny June afternoon and Molena Cannon
says she can now spare a few minutes for a telephone interview because "the
plumber just left. He was removing a set of dentures from the toilet. Just a
typical day here."
For 28-year-old Cannon, a typical day means caring for her
grandparents, both in their 80s, as well as her 3-year-old daughter.
One in four Americans -- about 54 million people -- function,
like Cannon, as a family caregiver, according to a recent survey by the
National Family Caregivers Association. Most of these people didn't choose the
role, says NFCA founder Suzanne Mintz, but rather had it foisted on them by
circumstances -- a sick and failing spouse or parent or a handicapped
Using that model, Molena Cannon is the exception: She chose to
give up her home and her full-time job at a community hospital to become a
full-time caregiver. It was a choice that saw the Cannon family moving to the
family farm in rural Georgia where her grandparents lived, and where her father
had been raised.
Cannon's husband is a police officer, but in his off-time he
works the 300-acre farm to supplement the $800 a month Cannon's grandparents
get from Social Security. To help make up for the lost wages from Cannon's job
as a monitor technician, she and her husband also grow and sell vegetables.
"We sell them from our back porch and gross about $1,000," says
Caregiving Can Offer Special Rewards
Loss of income is a common dilemma facing family caregivers,
but the rewards can often outweigh the sacrifices, says Cannon, whose
grandfather has been debilitated by stroke and whose grandmother has suffered
both a heart attack and the onset of dementia. In her hospital work, Cannon
says, she often saw elderly patients with "no family or friends
visiting" and decided her grandparents wouldn't suffer that fate.
When she and her husband announced their decision to move to
her grandparents' farm, it didn't meet with universal applause from the rest of
"My mother was very opposed to it because she thought it
would be bad for my daughter," says Cannon.
Cannon's father had died some years previously, but her uncle,
the only surviving child of her grandparents, was also initially opposed to the
idea. "But he is coming around now because he sees how unsafe it is for
them to be here by themselves," she says.
Different Stories, Same Emotions
A desire to help other caregivers is what led Suzanne Mintz to
organize the National Family Caregivers Association. Mintz learned firsthand
about being a caregiver when her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
"That's when our lives changed," says Mintz. At the
time, she was 28 and her husband, Steven, was 31.They were married in 1967 and
were parents of a son born in 1969. "That's not the time of life when you
expect to hear that your spouse has an incurable neurological disease," she