Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
As former wife deals with illness, man chooses to keep assisting her
Dear Dr. Roach: My ex-wife and I are both 72 and have known each other for about 15 years. Soon after filing for divorce in 2019, she became very ill with an ulcer, followed by lung cancer and the onset of dementia. Then, recently, the cancer came back in the other lung.
People tell me I’m consumed with her health and well-being. I pay what falls short from Medicaid and Medicare so that she can live in a nice assisted living home. I saw her every day in the hospital for three months and often cry when she’s in discomfort.
My question is, can I be taking this too far? I just feel it’s the right thing to do. My mom had a history of helping the ill when I was very young. Am I OK? — Anon.
Dear Anon.: I think you are far more than OK. I think you are being very generous. If you have the time, financial resources and patience to help a woman in dire need, then I honor you for your dedication.
I only hope you aren’t neglecting your own needs or the needs of anyone else who may depend upon you.
I often see caregivers neglect their own needs. They may not have time to go to the doctor for themselves, exercise, eat well or even get an afternoon off. Furthermore, caregivers are at high risk when the person they have been taking care of gets worse or passes on.
I advise people to get help when they can. Hiring a professional to help take care of your ex-wife can give you much-needed time. Many of my patients (or their caregivers) can’t afford that, but they may be able to find another family member, friend or neighbor for a period of time so that others can get some of what they need done for their own life and physical and mental health.
Dear Dr. Roach: My dermatologist has recommended blue-light photodynamic therapy for facial actinic keratoses. Is this safe? I read one of the side effects could be memory loss. I am a 72-year-old woman, and I certainly don’t need to suffer from memory loss! — K.B.
Dear K.B.: Actinic keratoses are concerning because a small number of them will progress to squamous cell cancer of the skin. So dermatologists recommend treating these to prevent skin cancer (as well as to improve appearance and the symptoms that can come with the actinic keratoses). They usually appear as red, scaly plaques on sun-exposed areas.
Photodynamic therapy is one of several effective treatments for actinic keratoses. This involves a photosensitizer being put on the lesion, and then blue light is used to effect the treatment.
The most common side effects are local: a sunburnlike rash, tingling or mild pain, and some (usually short-lived) skin changes.
It doesn’t make any sense that there would be any memory loss during this procedure to me, but I read the same report you probably did, a report of five cases. These patients had a condition called “transient global amnesia,” which can be triggered by many factors, such as emotional events and physical activity. This is not at all the same thing as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
I do not think that photodynamic therapy is more likely to induce transient global amnesia than any other treatment.