June 11, 2010 -- Ed Grace’s journey as a caregiver began in December of 2004 when his wife, Diana, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
Over the next 2 1/2 years, the semi-retired aerospace engineer experienced many of the same emotional highs and lows as his wife as she underwent endless rounds of chemotherapy.
Grace, who had worked on the Apollo moon program, says he initially approached his wife’s illness as a problem to be solved, just as he would tackle an engineering problem.
He quickly learned that her cancer had its own agenda. In a diary he later published online, Grace writes about trying to stay upbeat while fighting anxiety, depression, and stress during the toughest days of his wife’s illness.
“We were told Diana would live for just three or four months, but we fought it hard and she lived for almost three years,” he tells WebMD. “There were many good times, but it was also very stressful for both of us.”
Grace’s story is reflected in new research finding that family caregivers often experience the same feelings of well-being, distress, and depression as patients with a terminal cancer.
In earlier work, palliative care researcher Scott A. Murray and colleagues of Scotland’s University of Edinburgh identified four critical times that are particularly stressful for patients -- diagnosis, following initial treatment, at cancer recurrence, and during the terminal stage of the illness.
The researchers found these times to also be the emotional low points for caregivers in their new study, published June 11 in the journal BMJ Online First.
Murray and colleagues conducted 42 interviews with lung cancer patients and 46 interviews with their family caregivers. The interviews took place every three months for up to a year or until the patient died.
He tells WebMD that the caregivers reported feeling overwhelmed and depressed more often during these key times, as if they were riding an emotional roller coaster.
“Caregiver support initiatives that target these key periods may prove to be most effective,” he says.