How Spouses Can Help Their Loved One Through The Cancer Process
It’s often said that cancer isn’t an illness of one person — it’s an illness of many. While the person in question with cancer has the brunt of the mental battle that comes with such a diagnosis, their loved ones are also affected by the news in very profound ways. Even if you aren’t the person in your family with cancer, the concept of a loved one dying can lead to grief, depression and questioning one’s own mortality.
Spouses are especially placed in this position. The love that two people who are married share for each other is profound, and cancer can sometimes be the ultimate test of that love. It places a strain on relationships in that it brings fear, worry, grief and doubt. Fear that the worst may be inevitable. Worrying about what to tell the children. Grief that focuses on the potential of the person you love more than anything actually leaving you. Doubt that you can handle the immense pressure that comes with this diagnosis, despite not actually being the patient yourself.
A spouse is put in a unique and intimate position when their mate is diagnosed with cancer. It is their job to be a rock during this trying time, though some can find it difficult to both carry their own emotional weight while shouldering the burden of their loved one and potentially their children as well. Here we discuss how spouses can better cope with a cancer diagnosis and how the cancer-free spouse can better help their cancer-diagnosed partner through this scary time.
Common Emotional Cliffs
The spouse of someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer may feel the crushing weight of their own emotions, but it’s important to remember that these feelings are also something that their partner is going through too and then some. For as much as they’re worried, the patient is even more worried.
There are also unique emotional cliffs that people who have been diagnosed with cancer may experience, such as guilt over their condition. Those suffering from cancer and who have to go through extensive treatments may feel guilty over their inability to provide, to work, to pay for their treatments, or to be the person they were before their diagnosis.
Similarly, those recently diagnosed with cancer may purposefully push their limits to try and do things they simply can’t anymore. Despite feeling chemotherapy fatigue, they’ll still try to cook dinner or pick up the children from school, even though they shouldn’t push themselves or go into public, crowded places for risk of infection. They feel as if they must perform these duties to prove their worth.
It’s the job of a spouse to recognize these emotions and be reassuring. It’s important to let them know that they shouldn’t feel guilty. They should also let their spouse know that it’s okay to say that they can’t do something, and to let others help them when they need it.
Cancer can also cause general depression and may lead a person to thoughts focusing on their mortality. Some cancer patients become suicidal if their condition is potentially fatal; they think along the lines of “wouldn’t it be better to die now rather than later? Suicide can help my family avoid massive medical bills and prolonged grief.” Spouses should be on the lookout for signs of depression or suicidal ideation and be willing to talk about these issues if they come up, reassuring the cancer patient that positivity and good mental health are paramount in facing cancer in the most healthy way.
General Emotional Care
Sometimes all a spouse needs to do for their cancer-diagnosed partner is to listen. Again, a cancer diagnosis comes with a variety of different, intense and swirling emotions, and the best thing a spouse can do is give their loved one an outlet for these thoughts and feelings. Similarly, discussing these feelings can be healing for both parties, not just the patient.
It’s important that both parties be open and honest, and sometimes it’s the job of the spouse to be more probing if they feel like their partner isn’t being wholly forthcoming with their feelings. While pressuring a person or accusing them of anything is never good in this situation, letting a cancer-diagnosed partner that you’re open and willing to listen to whatever they want to say, no matter how much gravity it may hold, is the best possible way to allow them to open up about their honest feelings.
Finally, the cancer-free spouse shouldn’t neglect their own emotional needs. A therapist or other confidant may be a good idea during this time so that any feelings of grief or sadness can be discussed with a third, impartial party. Keeping emotions bottled up or not wanting to communicate them to a cancer-diagnosed spouse for fear of selfishness can be detrimental to a cancer-free spouse’s own mental health.