Latest medical advances have ensured that being diagnosed with cancer need no longer be equated with a death sentence. And yet several cancers are still incurable while being treated for the curable ones can overwhelm both the patient and his/her family. So here are a few tips on how you can support a spouse who is battling cancer and at the same time save your marriage from falling apart.
Let it sink in
If your spouse has just been diagnosed with cancer, you might feel the earth beneath your feet shifting away. On one hand you must now don the role of the primary caregiver for your spouse while at the same time taking on the role of the only active partner and perhaps parent in the family. Worst of all, you can no longer depend exclusively on your spouse for emotional and practical support since it is you who has to be the emotional rock to him/her. So it is only natural for you to be assailed by a range of tumultuous feelings like rage, fear, anxiety and helplessness. First of all, allow yourself enough time to let this news sink in. Take a day or an entire weekend, but make sure you do it since living in denial or short-circuiting the process of absorption might only lead to a breakdown in near future.
Be there for your spouse
If you are struggling so much with your own demons, imagine what the sufferer must be going through. At this time, the most important thing to do is be there with and for your partner. Hold their hand and sit down with them even if they may be simply looking out of the window. If and when they feel like talking, listen attentively to them but don’t feel compelled to respond. Your spouse may simply want to verbalize their fears and pain and not necessarily look for immediate solutions or want to be “talked out” of their feelings.
Tell and show them that you love them
While there might not be any suitable words to express what you both are going through at the moment, try to understand that words – even if they are not the “right ones” – are better than saying nothing at all. It is only natural for awkward moments to come between you two, given the enormity of the situation which you as a couple have been left to face. However one of the best ways you can help your spouse through this battle is by reassuring them of your love and support all the time. Cancer and its treatment can leave a person ravaged both physically and emotionally. Your spouse is not only afraid that they can no longer be the lover to you that they have been but that due to after-effects of radiation and drugs, they will no longer be attractive to you. For all these reasons it is more important than ever to express your love for your spouse, in words and through gestures like hugging, kissing and caressing. Words contain a wealth of meaning and your words of love will help to reassure your spouse of your support. At the same time physical expressions of love will make them feel loved and cherished even when they may not physically attractive as before. All this wealth of love will help your spouse to get rid of negative thoughts and instead focus on fighting to get better.
One of the best ways of defeating an enemy is to know all that there is to about it. Read up or research on the particular kind of cancer that has struck your spouse. Put questions to their oncologist as well as to other medical caregivers. Don’t hesitate to clear your doubts on the chance that you might come off as too brash or interfering. The best doctors are bound to welcome an active participation from the primary caregiver – you. Moreover knowing about medication and its side-effects will help you provide a better level of care to your spouse. Side effects that ensue from radiation and chemotherapy treatments range from nausea to sleeplessness to hiccups and acne. If you are informed beforehand, many of these side-effects can be alleviated or even prevented. And lastly write down all the information you receive regarding medication since you might find that in such situations you cannot rely entirely on your memory.
Rope in family and friends
One of the worst aspects of a cancer diagnosis is the news that has to be broken to close family and friends. Decide who you want to disclose the news to and if you don’t feel up to it, share it with only a couple of family members and leave them to tell the others. Also this not the time to go it alone. When trusted friends and family offer help, don’t refuse outright. See how others can pitch in to make things easier for you and your home. For instance if you have kids, let them stay with their grandparents when you have to take your spouse outstation for treatment. Or allow neighbors to stock up on the groceries or supplies at your home so that at least one chore has been taken care of. Most people are eager to help, only they don’t know how or what to say.
Sort out your finances
Even though it may be unpleasant to think about the worst that could happen or in a perverse way even invite it, consider getting your and your spouse’s affairs in order. This could include making sure passwords and security questions are available to all, your financial accounts and major assets are both in your names, updating/making both your wills, trusts as well making decisions about burial or cremation from beforehand.
Attend to your own concerns
During all this time of offering support for the suffering partner don’t neglect your own needs and concerns completely. Even though you need to examine your priorities, as far as possible keep your job. This will not only enable a steady stream of income but also give you access to a world which is not all about suffering. Also adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle for yourself and if need be even seek counseling to go through this difficult time. Don’t feel guilty about spending time and effort on yourself or think that you are being selfish – if you are to offer effective support to your spouse as they battle cancer, you need to do all that you can to keep up your own physical and mental health.