Cancer patient caregivers suffer silently

By • Published: June 6th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

They are the forgotten survivors.

Spouses and partners of cancer patients, they’ve made it through their loved ones’ sleepless sprint through treatment, only to embark on their own physical and mental marathon for years afterward.

Now a University of Florida study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reveals caregivers are nearly three-and-a-half times more likely than healthy peers to be clinically depressed. They also frequently experience other problems that linger for years.

The study examined the long-term impact of treatment on quality of life for partners of blood and bone marrow transplant recipients, and highlights the strain of caregiving at a time when cancer patients are discharged “quicker and sicker”— and as they live longer than ever.

Researchers studied nearly two-hundred partner pairs from forty North American transplantation centers, and healthy peers. Survivors were in continuous remission from breast cancer, acute or chronic leukemia, or lymphoma.

Caregivers reported fatigue and difficulty concentrating and were less likely to note positive personal growth in the aftermath of cancer caregiving. In addition, they had emotional, sleep and sexual problems at levels on par with survivors, but perceived less social support, less marital satisfaction and less spiritual well-being.

Families are subjected to “a pressure cooker of emotions and challenges” in the wake of a cancer diagnosis. The study emphasizes the need for providing them with more support.

Remarkably, many caregivers are incredibly resilient. But researchers are seeking to better identify those most vulnerable, so they can smooth the journey.