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Caregiving by Men:
A Husband's Perspective

By: Seth B. Goldsmith, Sc.D,. J.D.

(Page 1 of 5)

The formal diagnosis of ovarian cancer was confirmed after seven hours of surgery at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Prior to receiving that devastating news, we were in the land of possibilities, probabilities and suspiciousness in large measure due to the inconclusiveness of blood tests, ultrasounds and CT scans. Cancer never strikes at a good time, but for us the surgery occurred at a particularly poignant moment, July 27, 1969, our twentieth wedding anniversary.

For the next five and a half years, Sandra and I struggled with hope, disappointment, fifty hospital admissions, two other major surgeries, countless minor procedures, and two changes of physicians. And throughout these years, until her death on October 13, 1995, we had to function as a family, work, pay bills, go to school, be effective parents to our two teenage sons and assist our aging parents and a disabled sibling—in other words, live life. Additionally, for significant periods during those years, I became a caregiver.

In the ten years since Sandra’s passing, I have been consulted by friends and family who are going through similar experiences. Most recently, a business colleague told me that his wife just had surgery for ovarian cancer and I started sharing with him my observations about a husband or significant other’s job when a loved one is stricken with cancer. Those conversations led me to prepare this article on ten steps for effective caregiving. While most of my examples are from ovarian cancer, I think they are applicable across the spectrum of diseases that make a significant impact on the family constellation.

STEP #1 EDUCATE YOURSELF

Being an effective caregiver is a proactive job. It is imperative that the caregiver becomes an expert on the disease, particularly when the person with the disease is physically and emotionally drained from the diagnosis and treatment. This means reading the consumer oriented literature from the various relevant organizations such as the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, The American Cancer Society or the National Institutes of Health, plus reading the professional literature.

Some of this literature is available on the general search engines such as Google or Yahoo, but it is also useful to try the sites medical professionals use such as MEDLINE and MEDLARS. In some instances, relevant articles may only be available as abstracts online so to read the full text it will be necessary to go to a hospital or university library. My experience has been that librarians are exceptionally helpful in assisting you to acquire virtually any article.
Understanding these articles will be a new challenge. Initially many of them will, because of their technical nature, appear to be gibberish. However, within a few weeks of starting this self-education project the articles will start making some sense. As important as the articles themselves might be, knowing whom the authors are is equally important. The articles will provide a crucial way of identifying those physicians who are doing the cutting edge research on the disease. More on that later!

 

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