Mother-of-six thought husband was having affair… but he had a brain tumour: Devastating story of wife who 'lost her mind' while caring for her dying partner
A wife who cared for her dying husband has revealed that the experience made her mentally 'crash' – essentially driving her to the brink of madness.
Speaking to ABC News, Catherine Graves, 45, described the trauma of caring for her husband, who had brain cancer, and explained that the lack of support she felt as a caregiver, which
eventually led to her breakdown, has driven her to pen a book about the
devastating story 'of losing her mind'.
For a year, the Phoenix, Arizona local lived in
a marriage to a man she no longer recognised. John Graves went from
adoring her to apparent nonchalance, and, suspecting an affair, she hired a private investigator.
Losing my mind: Catherine Graves cared for her husband John as he succumbed to a type of brain cancer that affected his personality
But when the private eye yielded no answers, it was instead doctors who were able to explain the
masonry business owner's worryingly uncharacteristic behaviour.
Following a seizure, he was
diagnosed with a virulent form of brain cancer – and with it came a
personality change that not only affected his relationship but made
coping with it next to impossible for those around him.
Catherine and John had married in 2001. With six children among them as well as a successful company, the outlook was bright, says the network.
But within a few years of the happy union, John's personality gradually began to change. Initially labelled as depression, he soon 'didn't know where he was and how to get home,' Catherine told ABC News.
'I thought maybe he was doing drugs and drinking or he was depressed and gambling,' she explained.
Happier times: The couple married in 2001, bringing together the six children from their previous relationships. But within a few years, John's character changed
Loving: Catherine said her husband went from doting to distant, rather than an affair, as she feared, it was eventually doctors who explained the problem
Instead, the cause lay in gliomblastoma, a tumour in his left frontal lobe – the brain's emotional and personality control centre.
From the time he was diagnosed until the time of his death, just five months passed. In those months, Catherine acted as full-time caregiver, going 'into autopilot.' Little did she know that the mental toll of caring for her husband, who was completely emotionally detached, was enormous.
Nursing him constantly around the clock, and enduring the slow alteration of his personality in the years preceding the diagnosis, highlighted an area that is desperately under catered-for – supporting the unpaid carers who look after the sick and the dying in private.
'On the outside I looked normal, but I was so disconnected and far away'
With America's burgeoning old population, caregiving is set to extend into many family lives. But whether individuals are able to cope is another question.
Though she remained strong during her husband's illness, for Catherine, the enormity of the strain came in the form of post traumatic stress and dissociative disorder, says ABC.
'On the outside I looked normal,' she told the channel. 'But I was so disconnected and far away. … I had alienated myself from everyone, even from myself.'
The family business failed as the dedicated wife became essentially house-bound.
Catherine hopes her book, Checking Out: An In-Depth Look at Losing Your Mind, will help others in a similar situation.
Couple until the end: Catherine nursed John as he grew more sick but was not aware of the extent of the emotional toll on herself until after his death
Strong family: The trauma of the experience has driven Catherine to write a book about 'losing her mind' as a caregiver who desperately needed support
Lynn Feinberg of AARP told the network that Americans provide $450
billion in home care, few are given the support and help needed.
honest about the emotional effects of another's illness is a step in
the process, believes Catherine, who told ABC that she began resenting
She said she 'buil[t] up a little bit of resentment. I did. And I think it's really common that you become a little resentful and no-one wants to admit that.
Checking Out: An In-Depth Look at Losing Your Mind by Catherine Graves
'And I think just being honest about it doesn't mean I loved him less, doesn't mean I wouldn't have done it again or differently or anything. It's just the way it was.'
The worst part, she told ABC, was 'feeling so alone.'
'Caregivers have overwhelming responsibility and not a lot of support,' said the mother, who is now working to help educate health professionals about the needs of caregivers.
Recalling the desperately hard months of his illness and her own depression, Catherine says friends told her they prayed for a miracle.
'The miracle would be if he could go peacefully and not have to endure this daily existence,' she remembers thinking.
The reality is that it wasn't simply her husband's health that was deteriorating – and no-one seemed to care.
'It was so about the patient,' said Catherine. 'There was nothing for me.'
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