Dear Miriam,

My wife and I are both in our mid 50s and have a great relationship. Life has been very good to us until three months ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. We were devastated, but also relieved to know that it was at a very early stage and that she would probably not need further treatment following major surgery to remove the tumour. Nothing can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, her operation was successful.

Since she had her surgery, it feels like my life has been put on hold. I am her full-time caregiver and our original routine has gone out the window. As well as caring for her, I also work from home on top of farming part-time. This is a blessing as I am on call if she needs me.

She feels very guilty at times as she can see that I am worn out. I don’t mind doing all of this for her, I love her very much. It is just so exhausting when there is nobody else around to help me. We do not have children. Friends and neighbours offer to help occasionally, but I find it hard to accept their offers. I feel I should be able to cope.

I am so grateful that the cancer was found early and she does not need further treatment, but I miss the life we had, I miss my freedom to come and go and I know she does too. She can manage small chores now like making herself a cup of tea and a sandwich. She will put on a wash and help me fold the laundry before I put it away. The reality is, I fear, that I cannot keep going until she is back to full health and independence. I am not sure what to do or where to turn.

If you can offer any advice, I would be truly grateful.

Galway Reader

Dear Galway Reader

Thank you for getting in touch. It sounds like you are starting to experience what is known as burnout. You have expended all your energy on being a caregiver as well as continuing to work away at your own job and on the farm.

It is good you can focus on the positives, but equally important from now on that you focus on implementing self-care into your daily routine. It may help to have a chat with your GP and get a cert for a week or two to help you recharge the batteries away from your day job.

From your letter, I understand that your wife enjoys a certain amount of independence. Use this to both of your advantage. If it is safe to leave her on her own for an hour, what would it be like to get out in the fresh air and have a nice walk? Can she eat normally? Perhaps you could order in a takeaway once a week.

Maybe it is time to start accepting a little bit of help and support from your neighbours and friends. No person is an island. We all need support occasionally and a trouble shared can indeed feel like a trouble halved.

Maybe it is time to start accepting a little bit of help and support from your neighbours and friends. No person is an island

Alternatively, would you consider getting a cleaner to come each week? As you are paying someone, it may not feel like asking for help as much but having them for even two hours each week to mop floors and fold clothes could make a big difference.

Know that being mindful can help reduce stress and anxiety. When you are having a shower, don’t rush it. Allow yourself to enjoy it. Even if it is only for 10 minutes, let that precious time be for you.

How is your diet? Eat well and try and exercise daily. Guided meditations are also very effective and it may help to listen to one each evening before you retire to bed. Give yourself permission to grieve the temporary loss of your normality. It can also help to speak to a counsellor.

As you said in your letter, nothing can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis. I wish you both well.