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When you find out your spouse has cancer

Being a caregiver for a spouse who has cancer may be the toughest job you'll ever have. It may also be the most vital and the most rewarding. As the spouse, you become part of the cancer treatment team. At times, your loved one may be so busy fighting cancer that you need to be his or her eyes and ears. Your role may involve bathing, dressing, feeding, keeping track of medications, and getting your loved one back and forth for doctor visits and treatments.

SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: How to cope with a cancer diagnosis

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SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Cancer Patient's Emotional Heart to Heart with Husband - The Hospice

Facing Cancer with Your Spouse or Partner

Each situation is different. Your partner may be newly diagnosed, dealing with metastatic cancer, or living in a kind of limbo, not knowing whether the cancer has regressed. Here are some general guidelines that could help you provide the kind of support your partner needs:. Although your spouse has cancer, the illness is really happening to both of you. Your life is being disrupted in many of the same ways. You are sharing many of the same emotions and concerns.

You are both challenged to find constructive ways of dealing with the disruptions and threats posed by cancer and with the side effects of medical treatments. It can be tremendously reassuring and comforting to your loved one to know that the two of you are facing the illness together and that your support and involvement will be steadfast and unwavering regardless of what happens. Here are some of the specific issues that you should try to face together:.

Do not assume that you know what your spouse is thinking or feeling about the cancer, or that you know what he or she needs from you. You might think your spouse is mostly scared, when actually he or she feels more sad or perhaps guilty about the consequences of the cancer for you.

You might think that your spouse is strong and resilient, when actually he or she feels vulnerable and dependent on you, but may not want to let you know that. The point is to talk with your spouse about his or her emotional reactions and concerns and to ask what your spouse needs from you.

Other needs may be more emotional: being attuned and responsive to what your spouse is feeling, encouraging your spouse to confide in you, and offering empathy and support during difficult times.

Most cancer patients feel pressure to maintain a positive mental attitude, and too often this pressure prevents them from expressing their true feelings. Your partner might hold back in sharing legitimate fears because he or she does not want to disappoint or burden you, or because he or she thinks that negative emotions might jeopardize healing.

Your loved one probably has good reasons to be worried and upset, as well as to feel hopeful and optimistic. You should try to support and validate both sets of emotions not only the positive ones.

Some common examples are the loss of libido caused by chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, the impotence caused by prostate cancer treatments, and the body image effects of mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Even without such specific problems, the depression that cancer can cause can reduce libido and sexual functioning. The bodily or mood changes in your spouse can also cause you to lose interest. The key to dealing with these issues is open communication. Because your partner might be reluctant to broach these topics, you could take the lead by acknowledging these issues and conveying your desire to face them together.

You might also go out of your way to reassure your spouse of your love and devotion and that your feelings are not motivated just by physical attractiveness or sexual performance, that your main priority is his or her survival, and that you continue to desire an intimate physical relationship.

I know of hundreds of couples who have followed these principles. They have told me that the bond between them has actually been deepened and strengthened. The parents I see frequently underestimate the fears and questions their children have. Many worry that talking to children about cancer will frighten them. Parents may not realize how easily children pick up on the emotional state of the adults around them.

In most instances, there is no way to hide the fact that something is different once a parent has been diagnosed with cancer. In such cases, it may be helpful to put an arm around the child while explaining what is happening.

There is no need for a long discussion, but there are some essential points to get across:. Few appreciate the pain, fear, and confusion endured by the spouse or partner. Unfortunately, while attention and treatments are being given to the person with cancer, the spouse is sometimes shunted aside. But when I tell you how worried I am, what would help me most is a hug and to hear you say how much you love me and that you worry sometimes, too.

In general, the more the couple can talk about the areas in which they feel they are not communicating and the more they can be direct about their wishes and needs, the more the relationship will be strengthened. Also, the more the spouse can participate in the ongoing decision making and treatment discussions and the more experiences the couple can share, the less likely it is that they will drift apart. When it is not possible to share the experience, talking about it together later can help spouses to stay in touch.

Unless this ongoing communication occurs between the person with cancer and his or her partner and children, family members will be unable to know what the person with cancer is experiencing and feeling. In time, the person with cancer can begin to feel like Marco Polo—coming from afar with fantastic stories and feelings that are hard for others to understand. Many spouses of cancer patients are greatly helped by having an opportunity to get away from their home responsibilities on a regular basis and having someone other than the person with cancer with whom they can speak about their feelings and concerns.

Some even appear to be avoiding them. In such cases, it is not uncommon for a breach to occur in a family or for old friendships to end. It is important at such times to be aware that friends and relatives may sometimes need to be educated. Would you like to go to a movie [take a walk, etc. Illness, incapacity, and the threat of death are difficult subjects for a patient and his or her family and friends to discuss together. You may want to talk to each other but be hindered because you want to protect one another, or because you do not wish to face the truth yourselves.

The inability to communicate can occur with all people at any time, but it is usually heightened under conditions of stress. Families and friends faced with the life-threatening illness of a loved one have the dual problem of trying to control their own fears and anxieties while giving support to the patient.

Each is searching for the most tactful way to deal with the other. Our experience with patients has shown, however, that a deliberate policy of candor and openness will create an atmosphere that is beneficial to all concerned.

It can remove the burden of secrecy and open the door for the alleviation of apprehensions. Candor may not be easily achieved, for often people are not in the habit of speaking about their deepest concerns. Even those who have established close relationships may become fainthearted in the presence of cancer and the threat of death. Hearing what the others are experiencing is never as devastating as what the imagination can conjure up. Fears and frustrations should be talked about as they arise, rather than being left to fester until they become too frightening to mention, or until a habit of withholding evolves into inevitable isolation.

Candor will allow relationships to operate in a new realm, in which despair can be minimized or set aside and enjoyment and pleasure can resume their rightful places. The separation caused by hospitalization is particularly traumatic to the family.

They leave the hospital each evening and worry about whether their loved one will ever again lead a normal life, or whether he or she will even leave the hospital.

Feeling powerless, they need to give of themselves. These, along with the offer of special foods, a favorite pillow, or a comforting hand, become the routine of the daily hospital visit, giving solace to the family and friends as well as to the patient. When the patient is critically ill, it is not unusual for at least one family member to be in attendance around the clock.

When the patient is at home, functioning well, there are still many opportunities for family and friends to give emotional and practical support. A family member or friend can offer a ride or go with the patient on the bus. If everyone is working and cannot be with the patient during the day, there is still the evening, when the side effects of therapy may have to be endured. Patient, family, and friends all benefit from any means by which love and encouragement can be expressed.

To be realistic, however, not everyone is able to be open, loving, or supportive in crisis. Even stable relationships may be severely threatened by the pressures of long-term illness. Latent problems may emerge, and anger or guilt may surface in sudden attacks or recriminations, or in indifferent or overly solicitous behavior. The exhaustion and frustration of constant worry and care may break even the most loyal supporter.

Family and friends must be reminded that they need time to themselves and moments of rest if they are to keep emotionally and physically fit. Calling on other friends or relatives for assistance can provide a respite from the responsibilities and worries of constant caring.

Children of cancer patients often need special understanding. Children may also feel they caused the illness; this misconception must be corrected quickly.

Reassurance from other family members is important for children to realize they are still loved. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to stress, as they may be asked to assume a supportive role, to approximate an adult partner or spouse.

Adolescents are adults—up to a point—but they still require the reassurance and comfort routinely given to younger children. This anger usually manifests itself as irritation over trivial matters that normally would not even concern the patient. The person under attack needs to understand that this is not a rejection, but a cry of anguish.

In addition to anger and depression, a patient must also endure the endless boredom of being ill, as well as the fear of being a burden when he or she really wants and needs special attention. Ironically, the people from whom this attention is demanded may be suffering from the same tedium or from feelings of inadequacy and guilt for being unable to relieve the suffering.

They may not be able to cope with the reality in which the patient is imprisoned. The result may be a gradual diminishing of attention and care by the family, and increased bitterness and fear of isolation for the patient.

No one should be blamed for the ways he or she responds to the crisis of a long-term illness or the threat of change and loss.

The most important thing that family and friends can do for a patient is to be supportive, give encouragement, and do everything possible to promote his or her recovery. However, it is vital that they do not err on the side of being overly solicitous, because this deprives the patient of the accomplishments that can give a sense of independence, purpose, and self-esteem, and concrete proof of progress in returning to a normal life.

How open you should be about the fact that you have cancer or about how your treatment is going is entirely up to you. Although it can be hard, it makes sense to be open and direct with your family and close friends if you feel comfortable doing that. Without candor and openness, concerned relatives and friends are left with their own darkest imaginings.

They have their own fears and frustrations that will only grow into terrifying phantoms if they are left behind a veil of secrecy and ignorance of what you are really experiencing.

A mutual confrontation of fears is a good way of keeping your own fears and the fears of others under control. Nor, if someone asks how you feel, do you necessarily have to answer with a long detailed description. It hurts here and here. People with cancer are often avoided because, by their own conversation, only bad things seem to happen to them.

Another person in our experience—a military man and pharmacist who had lymphocytic leukemia and, concurrently, colon cancer—was a very open, extroverted person. It also made the association with others far less uncomfortable and much warmer because no one was made uneasy.

Short-circuiting painful conversations like this is one way of coping and getting on with your life.

But, again, it is not the only way. What is right for you is your own decision.

When Someone You Know Has Cancer

In the days following a person's cancer diagnosis, the partner or spouse will usually be fully invested in seeing his or her loved one through the crisis. But then, after months or even years of devoting one's time and energy as partner and caregiver, feelings of resentment and anger can begin to seep in. Suddenly, fractures in the relationship start to form, bringing in doubts as to whether the marriage can actually survive the cancer treatment.

While my husband David did not die from his cancer, his diagnosis did introduce the stark reality of what could happen. Statistically speaking, my year-old husband had a chance of dying from his Stage IV oral cancer.

The emotional support provided by a partner can affect how you cope with the diagnosis. Many relationships can be challenged by a cancer diagnosis. This may be because of several factors, including an uncertain future, financial worries after the diagnosis, and feeling isolated. Some studies suggest that partners have levels of distress similar to or greater than those of the person with cancer, and as a result partners may feel depressed and anxious. Being open and honest can help you and your partner through any anxieties, sadness and uncertainty, and your relationship may become stronger.

Should I Stay in a Marriage Only Because My Spouse Has Cancer?

Skip to Content. Talking about cancer is challenging because it involves intense emotions. Even couples who typically communicate well may have trouble talking about cancer. Discussing a cancer diagnosis may involve topics that couples do not want to discuss. This could include sexual problems, fertility concerns, physical limitations, financial worries, and even death. Good communication with your spouse or partner involves talking openly and honestly about your thoughts and feelings. Good communication is not easy and does not always come naturally.

Finding my identity as a cancer spouse

Find information and resources for current and returning patients. Learn about clinical trials at MD Anderson and search our database for open studies. The Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center provides cancer risk assessment, screening and diagnostic services. Your gift will help support our mission to end cancer and make a difference in the lives of our patients. Our personalized portal helps you refer your patients and communicate with their MD Anderson care team.

When a spouse has cancer, it can be very difficult to navigate through the emotional and physical turmoil that the illness brings on. Cancer is even more difficult to deal with when the couple is considering divorce.

Oct 29, Cedars-Sinai Staff. This year, over a quarter million women in the US are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer. That means plenty of spouses and partners will step up and learn to become caregivers.

The effect on partners

Get expert suggestions, from how to communicate to tips for supporting them. Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission.

SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Cancer changes your life: how spouses and partners cope - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Caregiver is defined here as the person who most often helps the person with cancer and is not paid to do so. In most cases, the main primary caregiver is a spouse, partner, parent, or an adult child. When family is not around, close friends, co-workers, or neighbors may fill this role. Good, reliable caregiver support is crucial to the physical and emotional well-being of people with cancer. Today, most cancer treatment is given in outpatient treatment centers — not in hospitals.

When Your Spouse Has Cancer

Your spouse or partner may feel just as scared by your cancer as you do. You both may feel anxious, helpless, or afraid. You may even find it hard to be taken care of by someone you love. Some relationships get stronger during cancer treatment. Others are weakened. Nearly all couples feel more stress than usual when cancer occurs.

Tips for the spouse or partner who has cancer Sharing helps your partner understand your challenges and provides an opportunity for him or her to support you. Tell your partner about the specific types of support and encouragement you need. One day you may need encouragement to get out of the house.

Finding out that someone you know has cancer can be difficult. You may have many questions about cancer itself and about how you should talk to and act around this person. If the person with cancer is a co-worker, you might also wonder how your work situation will be affected by their diagnosis and treatment. Supervisors may wonder what they can do to best help the person while still getting the work done.

How You Can Help a Spouse With Cancer

Diagnosis and the early days 2. Support for you 4. Changes to your relationship.

If You’re About to Become a Cancer Caregiver

Please read our information about coronavirus and cancer alongside this page. If you have symptoms of cancer you should still contact your doctor and go to any appointments you have. Spotting cancer early means treatment is more likely to be successful. Read about coronavirus and cancer.

Each situation is different.

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What to Do When the Woman in Your Life Has Breast Cancer

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