My Spouse has Cancer
Promising to love, honor, and cherish someone “in sickness and in health” is easy during the wedding vows, when it’s purely a hypothetical situation. But when cancer strikes, reality sets in.
Cancer doesn’t take up residence just in a person’s body—it also infiltrates their home, family, relationships, and career. Every day thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer, and every day thousands of spouses and partners step into the role of caregiver.
Unfortunately, there is no script for this new role, and that can leave many partners feeling lost and frustrated. Cancer has struck one body but two hearts, and this leaves everyone in need of support.
Pray, Meditate . . . .
Whatever your spiritual beliefs are, understand that those beliefs are a part of the situation too. You and the patient will need a lot of resources to win, more than you can muster up on your own. Don’t neglect your spirituality in this fight. It can connect you with the source of your greatest strength.
The person with cancer needs you now more than ever. But the patient won’t be fun to be with all the time. So, don’t give into the temptation to hide from the situation by getting busier with work, hobbies, or other things that keep you away from the patient. It’s no fun holding a woman’s head while she loses her cookies, or holding her hand just before she goes into surgery. But she’ll remember what you did for her later.
Though she may be a fighter by nature, a woman with breast cancer is often in no shape to battle hospital bureaucracies, insensitive doctors, thoughtless nurses, or anyone else, especially you. It’s your job to take her side and ask the hard questions, pound the receptionist’s desk when you’re being ignored, and act in her best interests. Even the best medical care personnel get too busy or preoccupied. And when that happens, you need to act to make sure your patient gets the care she needs.
Maybe you’re not a born organizer. But you can keep track of doctor’s appointments, medications, prescriptions, hospital bills, test reports, and the hundreds of other pieces of paper that a typical treatment sequence for breast cancer generates. Not all of these papers are important, but you don’t want to lose the ones that are. And your patient will be relieved not to have to keep track of them herself.
There will be times when you both feel like crying. Go ahead. But make sure you’re the one handing out the hankies, not your patient. She needs an emotional anchor, and you’re it, whether you like it or not. Sometimes not saying anything is better than saying the wrong thing. But if you’re there, advocating, and organizing, your actions tell her that you care, even if you don’t have the words to say it.
Whatever is normal for you, that is. Cancer doesn’t mean the world has to grind to a halt. If you and the patient have normal routines and things you enjoy doing, try to keep them up to the extent possible. But always be sensitive to physical fatigue, emotional stress, or other reasons for not doing things you used to do, and give into the needs of your patient.
Most people today would rather hear the truth about their medical condition than a sweetened-up lie. This doesn’t mean being needlessly cruel, however. When you both face the same facts together, whatever they are, you can act together and stay together through the treatment.
Most people look to their partner to supply needs or wants they have for affection, companionship, and sex. Some have the attitude that, “If a partner can’t give me what I want anymore in these departments, I’d better drop them and find another one.” This is the absolutely worst thing you can do to them at this vulnerable point in their life. A person can get over cancer, but they’ll never get over the deep and lasting emotional injury you’ve given them if you abandon them now. And neither will you. Don’t do it. Stay with then, even if you’re not that happy with the situation. You’ll both be better off together than you’d be in Splitsville.
Ask Your Friends For Help
The two of you don’t have to do it all by yourselves. Friends, neighbors, relatives are there to be asked for help. Not all of them will, but you will be surprised at what some people will do if you just ask them. Seek their help in driving to appointments, staying with the patient while you’re at work, or doing errands you normally do but don’t have time for anymore.
Expect Weird Reactions From Some People
Everybody has a different attitude toward cancer. Some people will get up and run away if you try to tell them what’s wrong with the patient. Others will cry, get angry, or ignore the whole situation. You can’t control their reactions, but you can control your reactions to them. Don’t volunteer the information that your patient has cancer without a good reason. On the flip side, don’t try to make it a deep dark secret either. And let the people you tell deal with it on their own terms.