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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Catherine Zeta-Jones plight: the impact of cancer on a care giver

The recent revelation that Catherine Zeta-Jones  the wife of the actor Michael Douglas sought treatment for bipolar disorder underscores the potential impact of cancer on other family members. Michael Douglas was recently diagnosed and underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatment for base of the tongue cancer.

Being a caregiver for a loved one with a serious illness such as head and neck cancer is very difficult. It can be extremely hard to watch their loved one suffer especially if there is little that they can do to reverse the illness. It can be physically and emotionally very taxing.

Caregivers often fear the potential death of their loved one and life without them. This can be very anxiety provoking and depressing. Some cope by refusing to accept the diagnosis of cancer and believe that their loved ones illness is less serious in nature.
Caregivers often sacrifice their own well being and needs to accommodate those of the person they care for. They often have to calm down their loved one’s fears and support them despite being often the target of their vented anger, frustrations and anxieties. These frustrations may be exaggerated in those with head and neck cancer who have often difficulties in expressing themselves verbally. Caregivers frequently suppress their own feelings and hide their own emotions so as not to upset the sick person. All of this is very taxing and difficult.

Unfortunately the well being of caregivers is frequently ignored as all the attention is focused on the sick individual. It is essential, however, that the needs of the caregivers are not ignore. Getting physical and emotional support through friends, family, support groups, and mental health professionals can be very helpful for the caregiver. Professional counseling can be an individual or joint one with other family members and or the patient.  They should find time for themselves to “recharge” their own batteries. Having time dedicated to their own needs can help them continue to be a source of support and strength for their loved ones. 


  1. Well said. I try to remind people to give that caregiver the support they need. It is a terrible strain on them. As you said, they are frightened too, and they try to hold up to all the pressures of paying the bills and running the household, on top of caring for their loved one. The have the weight of the world upon their shoulders.

    I'm disgusted with the handling of Catherine's diagnosis, however. She deserves understanding and respect, and I am not seeing it handled with either.

  2. I agree I am just starting my PhD in which I will be interviewing caregivers of colorectal cancer patients. The focus of the PhD will be fear of recurrence for both caregiver and patient.
    I have been involved in research interviewing caregivers to ascertain their support needs. They are ignored but they also feel they are not entitled to any attention and all the support should be given to their relative who has cancer.
    More support is definitely required for caregivers.

  3. my caregiver was a 3 yr old and my husband.My daughter is now 17 and an honor student in high school.She was and is now my staying power.