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Cancer Caregivers Share Patient Stresses

Emotional Highs and Lows Similar for Cancer Patients, Caregivers

Women Caring for Parents at High Risk

The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) ongoing ‘National Quality of Life Survey’ periodically asks cancer patients and their caregivers about their experiences in an effort to identify psychological stresses and unmet needs.

ACS research analysis Rachel Spillers Cannady says it is clear from the responses that interventions designed to ease the burden on caregivers are needed across the trajectory of illness.

She tells WebMD that caregivers are particularly vulnerable to stress early in the illness as they are assuming the new role. And after initial treatment ends, patients and caregivers often report depression.

“That is when the waiting game begins,” she says. “The patient and caregiver have been through the treatment and there is nothing else to do.”

Women with children at home caring for a sick parent seem to be particularly at risk for caregiver-related stress and depression.

Somewhat surprisingly, women in this situation who also worked outside the home tended to report less stress.

“It is almost like their job is a stress buffer or an escape,” she says.

‘Caregivers Need to Ask for Help’

Caregiver advocate Betty Garrett, says almost two out of three caregivers will experience some degree of depression and isolation following a loved one’s cancer diagnosis.

When her husband Gene was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in April of 2003, she did not ask for much help as the couple negotiated chemotherapy, radiation, and later surgery.

It was only after her husband’s cancer returned in the spring of 2004 that she knew she couldn’t do it all alone.

“He had gotten a clean bill of health, but then we found out the cancer had returned with a vengeance,” she says. “I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I knew I didn’t have the energy and emotional stamina to keep doing it all by myself.”

The Irving, Texas businesswoman looked for a caregiver support group. When she found there wasn’t one at Baylor University Medical Center, where her husband was being treated, she worked with the staff to develop one.

She also wrote the book From Hiccups to Hospice: A Survival Guide for the Cancer Caregivers to help others experiencing what she went through.

“There are many things I wish I had known at the beginning of this process,” she says. “It is a roller coaster ride and you might as well go ahead and accept it. And you need to ask for help from family and friends.”

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