Ask Dr. Giles: I’m overwhelmed.

Beth asks:

Hello, I am a 34 yr old caregiver to my husband who is also 34. Recently there is talk from our Dr.s that they might not be able to continue treatment. I’m sad. We have a 5 year old daughter and I don’t know how I will move on. My husband is obviously getting worse and we have thought that treatment might not be possible,soon.

We have no family to help and would not ask because our relationship is strained. I work full time and have not been myself lately. I make more mistakes because I am preoccupied.

I don’t really have a question I guess. I think I need therapy but there is no time for it now.

I am so sorry to hear of your family’s situation, Beth.  It will be a great day when when cancer is rare and nearly always defeated.  Until then, it serves as a reminder that life is precious and unpredictable.  It sounds like you are in a delicate situation where you have little support beyond your spouse and child.  It may not surprise you to hear that when a person is faced with high demands and low support, their day-to-day functioning may begin to be compromised.  Their concentration is spotty, they have difficulty with mental recall, and their problem-solving skills are compromised.  I call this “Mushy Brain Syndrome.”  If our brain, in top form, is like a crisp, cold apple, then our brain under prolonged stress can become like a mushy, warm apple.

It is normal for caregivers of those who have serious, long-term illness to develop Mushy Brain Syndrome.  It is important, therefore, for them to make sure they are caring for themselves, too.  I often hear caregivers say they cannot afford to take time to care for themselves.  I tell them that they cannot afford not to take the time.  Please make sure you are getting adequate rest and that you are eating right.  There is no substitute for proper rest and fuel.  I would also suggest you seriously consider meeting with a competent therapist with whom you regularly meet to talk about what it is like to be in your current situation.  It is very important to secure that support for yourself.

Please remember that, despite the outcome with your dear husband, you have an amazing 5 year-old who will be looking to you to care for her and to lead her into the future.  I would want you to take care of yourself for your own quality of life, but there is added incentive because the way you take care of yourself will have in important impact on your daughter as well.  Please begin looking for a therapist today.  Talk to those you know who have been in therapy.  Ask them who they would recommend.  Talk to the doctors who are treating your husband.  They may also have some ideas of who would be good to see.  Contact the American Cancer Society.  They may be able to steer you to a good therapist as well.

We’ll be thinking of you, Beth, and wishing the best for you and your family.