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Support Can Help Stressed-Out Spouses of Cancer Patients

Stressed out spouse of cancer patient
The stress of caring for a seriously ill senior can certainly take its toll on a spouse.

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For those who are taking care of a spouse who is seriously ill, a good piece of advice is to make sure that caregiver stays as healthy – physically and mentally – as possible. That’s why respite help is so important. Home Instead CAREGiversSM are often called to give weary family caregivers a break.

Q. My 72-year-old mother is caring for my father, who has prostate cancer. I’m worried about the stress on her health since my father suffered a recurrence of the disease. Mom has been dealing with these issues for several years. What can I do to help?

The stress of caring for a seriously ill senior can certainly take its toll on a spouse. A study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center – the results of which appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology – found that what really impacted emotional distress among both patients and their spouses was whether the patient was newly diagnosed, facing a recurrence or living with advanced disease.

Researchers looked at 263 men with prostate cancer and their spouses. Participants were recruited from three large cancer centers. Both the men and their wives completed questionnaires that assessed quality of life, including physical, social, family, emotional and functional issues. Patients and spouses each reported on their own quality of life.

The researchers found little difference in quality of life between patients and spouses, but found significant differences based on the phase of their illness. Couples coping with advanced disease had significantly poorer overall quality of life. Spouses reported lower confidence than patients in their ability to manage the illness, and more uncertainty about the illness; patients also reported more social support than did spouses.

One way to assist your mother is to get her respite help. If you or other family members can’t be there to give your mom a break, consider hiring professional help. Local Home Instead CAREGiversSM, for instance, are often called on to provide respite assistance to family caregivers.

Why not help your mother by encouraging her to visit, the Home Instead® network’s website designed just for family caregivers? One quarter of adults are presently caring for an aging parent or relative, with close to half (45 percent) of this group – such as your mom – providing care for their spouse, according to Home Instead.

On this website, your mother can take an online test to gauge her level of stress. The site also features tips and other stress relief for family caregivers. The best thing your mother can do for your father is to take care of herself, so any way you can help her do that could improve her health and emotional well-being, too.

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Last revised: October 19, 2011

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. August 24, 2021 at 11:32 pm | Posted by James C Houser

    My wife and I have found out today she has 6 months to a year to live because her cancer is spreading. Are there support groups to guide me , she wants to die at home. I need someone to talk to. I am alone.


  2. April 27, 2014 at 10:30 am | Posted by Amy

    Dear Suzie: I am so sorry to hear of your husband's illness, and your stress and burnout as well. It is ironic I should find your note. I am a nursing student drafting an information packet for spouse caregivers and what they can do for themselves to stay healthy. Have you tried the Family Caregiver Alliance? ( They offer state by state listings for services for care recipients at home. offers the same state listings for help. Suzie, I hope that you find acceptance over the things that you cannot control right now. Being a caregiver is no easy task. I pray that you are able to enlist help of trusted friends and neighbors and find much needed time for yourself to relax. Best, Amy


  3. April 3, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Posted by Suzie

    I am the sole caregiver of a 92 year old husband who suffers from kidney failure and dementia. My stress level is very high on a daily basis. He also suffers from seizures so he has to be watched 24/7 even when he's sleeping. I have one day every other week that I can get away for several hours, but I'm usually too tired to do very much, so I get my hair done and come home. I cry a lot and am depressed most of the time. This is going on seven years now. I really don't know how to decompress , and I'm just too tired to care about much of anything. I tried a two day respite care facility and it didn't work very well. They failed to give him his meds which is very risky considering the seizures. What to do I just don't know.


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