Typically in cancer cases, one reads stories of a suffering individual undergoing a usually painful treatment to ward off life-threatening disease. But there’s often another side to these stories—that of those individuals’ caregivers, the struggles they, too, endure as their loved ones fight for their lives.

Sharon’s story

The Caregiver Action Network estimates 90 million Americans care for an elderly, sick or disabled loved one, but for women whose husbands are battling prostate cancer, the role of caregiver can be distinct. Sharon Artis-Jackson, of Randolph, MA, vividly remembers the day her husband, Christopher, was diagnosed with prostate cancer because she recorded it.

“It was just devastating, and I write all intense things, good or bad, in my diary,” says Artis-Jackson, age 67. A retired educational administrator, she immediately began exploring treatments and accompanied her husband to doctors’ appointments to determine an appropriate therapy. They, like many other families, joined a support group to stay informed and cope emotionally.

“Delving into the research, and most of all being the company of people who had been in this experience, gave me tremendous hope,” she says. After his December 2013 diagnosis, Christopher underwent hormone therapy followed by CyberKnife treatment. Now, at 59, he is cancer free. The Artis-Jacksons have been married for nearly 24 years.

“‘It’s just that we shifted into our roles, and I knew at that point it was my role to support him.’”

Althea answers the call 

Althea Young, of Birmingham, Ala., also feels that an integral part of her role as a caregiver was researching treatments for her husband of 32 years, Robert H. Young Jr., who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2004. “I think what we focused on was getting the information that we needed instead of being terrified,” says Young, 55.

Having just turned 47, Robert underwent robotic surgery wherein his prostate was removed to avoid potential recurrence. “It’s not anything that we really ever discussed,” Young admits. “It’s just that we shifted into our roles, and I knew at that point it was my role to support him.”

For her, that meant going to all of Robert’s doctor’s appointments. Her husband beat the disease, and when she talks to other caregivers she stresses the importance of this aspect of being a caregiver. “When I go to a doctor’s visit, I hear things that my husband doesn’t hear and vice versa, so that way we get the story right, more than likely,” Althea Young says.

Wendy speaks up 

It was James Roberson’s wife, Wendy’s presence that led to his prostate cancer diagnosis in the first place. Roberson, a rheumatologist, was not inclined to ask questions during routine doctor’s appointments—but Wendy was. She knew in her gut that something was wrong, and she insisted he get a biopsy despite his doctor’s reluctance.

It turned out that James unknowingly had a family history of prostate cancer, and he had been on a medication to shrink his prostate that masked his PSA levels, a marker used to aid in diagnosis of the disease. Neither he nor his doctor was aware. He was diagnosed in January 2012 and beat the disease about two years later. Shortly thereafter, in October 2014, James and Wendy got married.

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question, and if it doesn’t work then ask follow-up questions,” Wendy sums. “It’s a difficult place to be in because you really have to be a strong individual—you have to be strong for your partner.”