One month after her husband-to-be proposed to Dr. Diana Denholm, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. She married him, and for the next 11 years until his death she was his primary caregiver as he suffered through surgery, chemo, and congestive heart failure, followed by a heart transplant, skin cancer, a choking disorder, Parkinson's, and many more dire conditions — ranging from gout to osteoarthritis — too numerous to name here. Upon hearing this story, is it so wrong to feel sympathy for the wife?
Now working as a medical psychotherapist, Dr. Denholm has become a pioneering thought leader in the field of caregivers' health. In a new book, The Caregiving Wife's Handbook (Hunter House Publishers, December 2011, ISBN: 9780897936057), Dr. Denholm draws from her own experiences and interviews with six real-life caregiving wives. She shares strategies, inspiration, and stories of success designed to help women struggling with the multiple challenges of being a caregiver to a husband or partner with a serious long-term illness.
And there are many such women — more than 30 million women are caregivers for an ill loved one. When that dying loved one is your husband or partner, the day-to-day matters of life get to be a challenge: your role in their care, your self-care, your ongoing lives, household management, sleep, sex, changes and strains on your marriages, and current and future finances, to name just a few.
Although there's a lot of information and help available for those "final days" and the grieving afterward, this is the rare book that offers practical written instructions for making life and marriage work during the long months and years wives face as a caregiver.
Dr. Denholm's approach is refreshingly realistic and practical. It's not written from a rah-rah cheerleader's perspective. She doesn't try to tell her readers to be upbeat and positive. On the contrary — she advises them to acknowledge and embrace all of their emotions, including difficult ones such as anger, guilt, annoyance, grief, stress, and resentment. And she doesn't shy away from hot-button topics, nor does she pretend that it's going to be easy to tell him he shouldn't drive anymore, or that you need to discuss funeral arrangements, or that you'd like to go away with friends for the weekend. Instead, she offers readers creative ideas and lots of practical tools wives can use to deal with the most common issues women face when their husbands suffer from a protracted illness.