THE EFFECTS OF CANCER ON THE PRIMARY CARETAKER SPOUSE
LYONS, ANNETTE RACHELLE
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Cancer is a disease that affects not only the patient, but the family as well. Studies found in the literature indicate that bereavement is a time of risk for morbidity or mortality for spouses. The primary caretaker spouse, due to extreme stress and self-neglect while caring for the cancer patient, may be at particularly high risk.;A literature search produced no information on any study conducted in this area, and this research was begun as an initial attempt to illuminate the problem and to better comprehend what variables might be operative during such a crisis that could put an individual at risk.;It is hypothesized that as a result of the primary caretaker neglecting his or her needs while being increasingly intensely involved with the spouse with cancer that there is diminished ego strength.;Twenty female and 20 male primary caretaker spouses of cancer patients were administered the following instruments: Cassel's Ego Strength Q-Sort, IPAT Anxiety Scale, Rotters' Locus of Control, Draw-A-Person, Moos's Family Environment Scale, and an in-depth semi-structured interview. Results of t-test analyses for the Ego Strength Q-Sort used to test the hypothesis indicate the study population is statistically significantly poorer in ego strength than a population of mixed adults (p < .01), and poorer than a prison population (p < .05), but not significantly different from a schizophrenic, neuro-psychiatric population. The hypothesis is supported. Several variables were found to be statistically significantly correlated. E.g., depression scores were positively correlated with the following variables: changes in social life and hours of sleep, non-recognition of own needs, inability to talk openly and freely.;It is suggested that idealization of the patient and martyrdom might be motivating factors in neglecting oneself and that this population is not aware of the pernicious effects the neglect may have nor of the insidious nature of the process. Interventions are discussed.;It is concluded that further research is needed; a number of unanswered questions remain. Recognition of the problem and changes in our health care system will benefit all concerned: the patient, the familial caretakers, the oncologist, and his or her staff.