Relationships and the Cancer Patient

Relationships are like gardens - they need to be cultivated. Chronic illness can affect even the strongest relationships. Cancer and its effects may push each partner to its breaking point. I remember how stressed I felt during my cancer journey. Studies have revealed that marriages are more likely to fail if one partner has a chronic illness. Fortunately, my husband and I were able to survive both during my cancer journey and several years later when he experienced a prolonged critical illness.

Cancer and its treatment can affect social and intimate relationships. Changes in body and self-image, fear of the future, fatigue, role change, or ability to return to work could be some of the feelings experienced. A patient may be uncomfortable sharing his/her real feelings with their partner. Instead, they may try to be positive to minimize fear. I remember a particular conversation in which I told my husband I wished I could have treatment instead of the “watch and wait” approach that made me feel helpless as the blood cancer continued in my body. A year later, I complained and feared the chemotherapy which was now ordered. My husband made the mistake of saying, “I thought you wanted the cancer treatment?” Well, needless to say, I was not happy, and we had words. Looking back, I can see how I gave him a mixed message.

Promoting a strong relationship during this difficult time

Sharing feelings and clear communication are vital. Lack of discussion of problems can lead to feelings of distance and lack of intimacy.

Identify the source of anxiety and find out ways to address it. Learn about the condition and seek out available resources. I discovered a sensitive and caring representative from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This lovely contact recognized my anxiety as a newly diagnosed lymphoma patient and provided support and educational information. The blood cancer website provides a community of fellow survivors who share experiences and supportive information.

Consider counseling and be alert for signs of depression. Be honest with your needs. Sometimes messages may be mixed as in the example above. Try to be clear in your conversation and feelings. The illness may cause a shift in responsibilities and roles. This imbalance may cause your partner to feel overwhelmed or resentful. Talk about how to trade responsibilities. During my chemotherapy, I experienced extreme incapacitating fatigue and was unable to work. My thoughtful husband shopped, prepared meals, and accompanied me during treatments. In return, when feeling stronger, I would address making out bills and address financial issues. We continued to functions as a team.

When an issue arises, instead of immediately getting defensive or jumping on your partner’s case take time to listen to what he/she has to say and then offer your suggestion.

Try to make time for your significant other

A week after my chemotherapy, when the fatigue was lessened, my husband and I would make time to watch a favorite movie. This time together was relaxing and reinforced our closeness. Appreciate each other. Try to put each other first.

Look for warning signs such as withdrawal from friends or family or loss of interest in activities. Having a strong friendship can buffer negative feelings.

I remember feeling the stress and anxiety when my husband was critically ill. One day, our friends visited. The husband stayed and talked to my husband. My friend, the wife, and I went to the cafeteria for coffee. We talked, cried, laughed, and shared feelings. Later, my husband and I both seemed more relaxed.

Seek help or assistance. Tasks may be overwhelming for both you and your partner. Reach out to friends, family, or neighbors. Take breaks when possible. Relief from caregiving is essential for emotional and physical wellbeing. Even if feeling guilty, step back and gain a healthy perspective to better manage stress.

The above suggestions have helped my husband and me in maintaining a positive relationship during most stressful times.

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