Coping With Emotions

Supporting Your Spouse With Cancer Throughout Treatment and Life

As a caregiver, coping with your spouse's cancer diagnosis is challenging. Once you get through the initial shock, try to find ways to support your partner while tending to your own needs as well. Here are some basic tips.

If you have a spouse with cancer, it’s likely you’re worried about how to support them. There is no denying the life changes that come with serious health-related issues and their impact on a relationship. For the partner who is often the primary caregiver, it can be hard at times to know your place or how to be as supportive and loving as possible while addressing your own needs, too.

Before cancer, you and your spouse likely shared household responsibilities and routines, including child-rearing. But after a spouse’s cancer diagnosis, your daily rhythm can change completely. You become an integral member of the cancer care team which is a new full-time job, and you’re left taking care of your family and home by yourself.

As a caregiver for a spouse with cancer, there are several ways you can help support your spouse with cancer as well as maintain your daily life. Here are a few suggestions:

Practice Acceptance

Acknowledging and accepting the cancer diagnosis is a logical first step, and actually doing something about it can help both of you cope. Assure your spouse that you are in this together. You can arrange a small vow renewing ceremony to reaffirm this commitment to each other or formally pledge to take ownership of your spouse’s usual responsibilities which may be overwhelming, but proves you’re there. Researching and doing your best to stay informed on your spouse’s condition and needs is an especially important way for you to remain engaged and an active member of the care team.

Communicate Constantly

Listening to and talking with your spouse about cancer equates to partnership. Literally put time on the schedule to talk about problems that are arising with your kids, your spouse’s cancer and other tasks, but also talk about fun stuff like a favorite TV show. Make talking to each other a priority and ensure each important conversation ends with some action points.

This also includes listening to yourself and recognizing your needs and the others in your care. Writing about your experience can be great therapy, so try recording your thoughts in a journal. It will help you get things off your chest and may even provide breakthrough thoughts or ideas that will help you better cope with the situation. That solace can help lighten your mood and bolster the care you provide your spouse with cancer.

Find Support From Others

People tend to relate better when they’re in the same boat. Sharing knowledge, lessons and de-stressing methods with other caregivers who are having similar experiences is key. Discover how others are coping with their spouse’s diagnosis and then use that information to help your spouse with cancer. Join online support groups and dedicated cancer discussion forums, or physically engage with other caregivers by meeting for coffee or a long walk. Also, ask about counseling options through your spouse’s supportive care team. Licensed counselors can help with issues ranging from emotional support to logistics, like transitioning from hospital to home. Keeping a dialogue going with people who understand what your going through offers unique insight and information to guide you through your journey. Also, plan social activities, like a trip to the movies, with your partner and those who are supporting you. This will give you some positive memories and help build stronger emotional bonds between all of you.

Coordinate Schedules

The flurry of appointments (consults, tests, procedures and surgeries) can be staggering. Consider dedicating a planner to your spouse’s care plan. Doing so keeps things in perspective, helps with organization and chronicles the road to rehabilitation. Once you’re less overwhelmed and accustomed to the new routine, you can include personal obligations, like your daughter’s soccer practice or your work dinner, on the same calendar, signifying that all events are important and you’re a unified team.

After diagnosis, the proper coping mechanisms and support resources might be lost on you. UVA Cancer Center patients and caregivers have access to licensed, compassionate counselors who can help.

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Stephen Owsinski
Stephen Owsinski