Anyone who has ever personally fought or witnessed someone with a chronic disease knows that battle's not just hard for the person who is sick. It can be equally challenging in a different way for those closest to them. Now research seems to be catching up with that idea, finding recently that men who take care of a wife with breast cancer, even years after diagnosis and end of treatment, could have a weakened immune response.
Researchers at Ohio State University noted that men who reported the highest levels of stress in relation to their wives' cancer were at the highest risk for physical symptoms and weaker immune systems ... Eek!
Apparently, the higher a man's perceived stress in relation to their wives' cancer, the more likely he would have compromised immune function -- leading to symptoms like headaches, gastrointestinal problems, coughing, and nausea. Men with wives who had recurrent cancer reported as many as nine symptoms, on average. However, if their wives were disease-free, they had fewer than five symptoms.
Really makes you stop and think about how not just stress but our perception of stress affects us mentally and physically. It's also refreshing that this study sheds light on the wellness of those around someone battling cancer.
Sharla Wells-Di Gregorio, Ph.D., lead author of the study, explains:
Caregivers are called hidden patients because when they go in for appointments with their spouses, very few people ask how the caregiver is doing. These men are experiencing significant distress and physical complaints, but often do not seek medical care for themselves due to their focus on their wives' illness.
Clearly, caregivers are affected in a big way by their loved one's disease. With hope, this research could open the door for health care practitioners to take caregivers' well-being into consideration more often.
How do you feel about this study? Have you ever seen a caregiver suffer from the effects of stress?