When a Spouse Has Cancer:
What to Do and How to Cope
Being a caregiver for a spouse who has cancer may be the toughest job you'll
ever have. It may also be the most vital and the most rewarding. As the
spouse, you become part of the cancer treatment team. At times, your loved
one may be so busy fighting cancer that you need to be his or her eyes and ears.
Your role may involve bathing, dressing, feeding, keeping track of medications,
and getting your loved one back and forth for doctor visits and treatments.
Sometimes your most important role is to simply provide support and be
the person your loved one can share feelings and fears with.
Some spouses take on this job naturally, others need lots of help from
a support network, and still others may try to take on too much. There
is no right or wrong way to be a good spouse for someone with cancer,
but you can use strategies to help you in this role.
What you may be doing and how to prepare
Your responsibilities may include giving drugs, reporting side effects,
helping to decide on treatment plans, taking notes and asking questions
during doctor visits, and being the liaison between your spouse and the
cancer treatment medical team.
Here's how you can become better prepared:
Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about your spouse's specific type of cancer.
Knowledge about the disease prepares you to deal with your spouse's
changing needs, participate in important decisions, ask the right questions,
and be the best advocate you can be for your loved one.
Organize yourself. Adding the responsibility of cancer care to your other responsibilities
is a big undertaking. Stay on top of tasks by making a daily schedule,
writing things down, delegating some responsibilities to friends and family,
and keeping a list of all key phone numbers handy.
Keep your spouse in the loop. Allow your spouse to be involved in decision making as much as possible.
Encourage your spouse to share feelings with you, and take the time to listen.
Create a support team. You can't do this job alone. In addition to friends and family members,
make use of community resources for help with cooking, cleaning, driving,
shopping, and home care.
Take time to take good care of yourself
Caregiving takes an enormous physical and emotional toll on the caregiving
spouse. It may seem overwhelming at times. You may feel like you have
to do it all, but you don't and you can't.
At times you will feel sad, lonely, guilty, and even angry. These are normal
emotions, and talking to somebody about them should help you cope better.
It's vital to your well-being and even to your spouse's well-being
to step out of your role as caregiver at times and see to your own needs.
These needs include seeing your own doctor for checkups, eating a balanced
diet, getting enough sleep, and taking time to relax. Make sure to connect
with friends, and don't give up the activities you enjoy-get plenty
of exercise, work in the garden, play with your kids or grandkids.
Sometimes caregiving spouses get overwhelmed and need to be taken care
of themselves. Watch out for these signs of trouble:
- Being excessively angry with your spouse
- Having trouble sleeping or eating
- Being sick all the time
- Being extremely tired all the time
- Losing interest in things you once enjoyed
- Isolating yourself from friends and family
- Feeling constantly sad, hopeless, and helpless
- Having trouble concentrating and making good decisions
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
If you find yourself struggling to cope, ask your doctor for help. Your
doctor may suggest counseling from a mental health professional. You might
also consider joining a support group. The American Cancer Society and
the National Cancer Institute are great resources for help and support.