When couples vow to stay together in sickness and in health, there’s
often no harder test of that promise than when one partner has cancer.
The stress of the situation can take a toll on the patient and the caregiver,
and affect their relationship. And that doesn’t end when a patient
is declared cancer-free.
A new study published in a journal of the American Association for Cancer
Research found that, not surprising, a caregiver’s mood can affect
the patient, for better or for worse.
“If a patient’s partner is depressed, the patient is also likely
to be depressed. But if the partner is happier, so is the patient,” says
Amy Shaw, MD, medical director of the Primary Care Oncology and Survivorship Program at
Annadel Medical Group.“This is important because, while a positive outlook doesn’t
cure cancer, it can help cancer patients find strength and resiliency
to move forward in life and ultimately find meaning in their cancer experience.”
The study analyzed data on couples to see how a caregiver’s attitude
affected the patient after a year’s time, and compared it to more
than 900 couples who were not dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Cancer survivors were four times more likely to be depressed if their partners
had been depressed. On the other hand, survivors whose partners had a
better outlook were significantly less likely to be depressed. In other
words, a patient became more depressed if his or her partner was depressed
and happier if his or her partner was happy. However, the study also found
that if the patient was depressed, the partner was not more likely to
“Caregivers undertake a tremendous job, one that can come with a
great deal of emotion and stress,” Dr. Shaw says. “It’s
necessary for caregivers to carve out time to take care of themselves,
Among Dr. Shaw’s suggestions:
- Find support—ask other family members or friends to pitch in on certain
tasks, or join a partner/caregiver support group or counseling service
that can serve as an emotional release. Don’t try to do it all on your own.
- Take care of your physical health—get enough sleep and exercise,
and eat a healthy diet.
- Watch for the physical manifestations of stress, such as headaches, excessive
eating, sleep problems, energy loss or lack of focus. Learn relaxation
techniques, exercise or find other activities that help you recover from
- Laugh. Humor is sometimes the most important thing we have to get us through
the hardest time.
“Caregivers shouldn’t feel like they have to put on a happy
face every day—there are going to be times when you feel sad and
afraid,” Dr. Shaw says. “But taking care of yourself will
help you take care of your loved one and give you fortitude to move through
a difficult time.”
Taking Care of Others and Yourself
Looking Back with Gratitude: A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Story
For more information about Annadel Medical Group, click
here. For more information about Dr. Shaw, please click