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Facing Cancer with Your Significant Other

coupleGetting a cancer diagnosis can be very stressful for you and your partner or spouse. Both the patient and the partner or spouse receives the diagnosis and it can impact all parts of the relationship. Understanding the impact on each of you is the beginning of figuring out how you will work together and support each other. New feelings are likely to arise, with new responsibilities, experiences and expectations. Learning how to juggle these new roles and responsibilities and all of the regular responsibilities of life can seem overwhelming at times. Also important to note is that stress can heighten different styles of coping and how each of you processes the range of emotions may be especially useful as you begin processing the meaning of the diagnosis and treatment as well as the tangible new activities with which each of you will engage. Keeping communication fluid and open can be challenging but often an important goal. Below are some tips to help with communication:

  • Share in making big decisions, such as meeting with your doctor together, researching treatment options, or possibly finding out additional resources in dealing with different side effects. Take time to talk about how you feel about the options before settling on solving problems.
  • Let your loved one help you and be clear about what types of help may be most useful to you. Remember your partner or spouse may be feeling overwhelmed and even helpless at times. Identifying both simple tasks like bringing you a soothing beverage, making food that sounds good to you or fluffing your pillow, as well as more complex tasks such as taking charge of responsibilities at home, managing the social calendar, or tracking all medications and medical appointment are all potentially helpful ways to be involved in your treatment.
  • Talk about stressful situations. Not all things that cause stress can resolve immediately, but some stressors may feel more manageable after having a conversation about them. Dealing with the unknown can be unsettling, but sharing concerns openly may help increase understanding and compassion and avoiding discomfort in the relationship.
  • Remember that you are not alone. You and your partner are a team. Discuss which decisions you want to make together and which ones you feel more comfortable handling by yourself. Acknowledge to each other that you each have important roles and acknowledge your appreciation and compassion for each other as you both traverse the often changing landscape of cancer and its treatments.
  • Spend time together that is not focused on cancer. Consider making “dates” to be together in something pleasurable. They can be simple time spent with each other or more planned opportunities, like the old days of “dating.” Remember to bring flexibility. If a last-minute change of plans puts the date off to another day, allow that to be fine as well. Many couples find that it helps to plan special occasions, whether as a couple or with others in a group setting.

For additional information on how to handle a cancer diagnosis with your spouse or partner, go to National Cancer Institute’s article here: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/adjusting-to-cancer/spouse-or-partner or to an article written by our director, Anne Coscarelli, PhD, https://www.simmsmanncenter.ucla.edu/index.php/resources/articles-from-the-director/in-sickness-and-in-health-cancer-and-couples/

If you are a man supporting a woman or partner diagnosed with cancer, the Simms/Mann — UCLA Center has a support group that is specially for you. Research has shown that men benefit from sharing and hearing from other men’s experiences. Led by Stephen Lottenberg, MD, PsyD who facilitates the sessions; Husbands/Partners of Women With Cancer Support Group meets twice a month on Thursdays. For more information, go to: https://www.simmsmanncenter.ucla.edu/?p=1591

Partners and spouses often find themselves in the role of cancer caregiver. To understand the hardships that they may face, see our article “Caring for Cancer Caregivers” at: http://bit.ly/1SW1EKX

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