How to Cope When a Loved One Has Cancer

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Cancer and Your Significant Other

You’ve never needed one round of chemotherapy nor one radiation treatment. You haven’t had any body scans or lymph nodes removed; no biopsies or cocktails of cancer-fighting medications. You have never received a cancer diagnosis, but you have been to more oncology appointments than you would care to recall.

Your health is in good standing — it is your significant other who has the condition.

The ride has been a rollercoaster from the time symptoms first presented to the start of treatment. So much has changed in the life of your loved one; they are feeling different physically, they are thinking differently.

It is challenging to remember what life was like before this insidious condition arrived.

Choosing a Side

Whether you are a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, or any other close support, cancer puts you in a position to make a choice.

On one side, you want to be compassionate towards your loved one. You want to provide them with all the encouragement and reassurance you possibly can.

Hopefully, your positivity can absorb some of the stress, fear, and frustrations that come with the diagnosis. You can feel better that you are helping them feel better. Besides, this is what everyone expects from you — you are “the rock.”

There is another side to this situation, though. You are a normal human, fully equipped with your own shortcomings, weaknesses, and imperfections. You love your significant other, but you seriously doubt your ability to manage this situation in an effective way.

You’re skittish and uncomfortable with the way cancer has distorted your relationship, your significant other, and yourself. You’ve got your own problems to deal with, and you’re not alone.

Relationships are hard enough to contend with while stressors are calm. When outside forces increase, all bets are off.

Assessing Your State

It’s important to check in with yourself frequently to gain a better understanding of your thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, in the interest of being “the rock,” too many supporters do not pay attention to their own needs. This may preserve the relationship at the beginning but will increase the tension later.

Identify how you feel and what aspects of life are triggering these reactions. What thoughts factor in?

People affected by the cancer of a loved one may have issues like:

  • Feeling annoyed, angry, or frustrated with the loved one
  • Feeling jealous that attention is placed on the significant other
  • Thinking that no one is tending to their needs
  • In the case of intimate partners, feeling less attracted or less love
  • Feeling confused about the new behaviors, interests, or activities of their loved one
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Many of these admissions will be difficult and potentially shameful for you to admit because when someone is ill, people think it is your duty to pick up the pieces and hold everything together. Expectations like these are unfair and unreasonable as many relationships (and the people within them) are ill-equipped to manage such stress.

If you are feeling it, you must acknowledge it. From there, you’ll have options to deal with it.

Communicate Your Experience

If understanding how you feel is an uncomfortable proposition, communicating your experience might be even more problematic.

When your loved one is dealing with cancer, others in your life may see your needs, wants, and concerns as secondary issues that do not compare to the struggle of your significant other. Remember, this battle is not a competition between you and your loved one — this is a battle against cancer.

You and your loved ones have the same enemy. The difference is in the way each person is impacted.

Your ability to communicate this point will be essential to produce the needed understanding and acceptance. When preparing to mention your perspective, keep several points in mind:

  • Plan and prepare for the conversation rather than bring up the subject randomly or when emotions are high
  • Make the conversation give-and-take by assessing the needs of your loved one and allowing them to ask about you
  • Maintain a balance between honesty and respect
  • After your feelings are expressed, shift focus to finding solutions that are agreeable to both of you

Your side of the conversation could go:

“I wanted to speak with you today so we could discuss the way cancer is impacting each of us. I know you are going through a tremendous struggle, and I think you are handling it remarkably well. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I’m having my own problems from the cancer and increased stress in our relationship. I’m hoping we can support each other to find solutions.”

Bring in Assistance

You know even the most assertive communication may be met with anger and frustration from your loved one. Cancer sparks high emotional responses, so you must be prepared to pursue other sources of support if your loved one is not responsive. Good options include:

  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Coworkers
  • Religious officials
  • Professional supports like therapists

These people are not meant as a replacement for your loved one with cancer. They are ways to supplement your support.

A Special Note for the Person With Cancer

If you’re reading this as the loved one, be patient. Even though the experience of your loved one is uncomfortable or inconvenient, it is their experience.

You know your fight against cancer must be selfish, but there is room for it to be selfless as well. Achieving balance can help your loved one as much as it aids in your care.

Cancer will do everything in its power to wreck your life from the inside out. This applies to the loved ones as much as the person with cancer.

By acknowledging the influence, expressing your concerns, and finding backup when needed, you and your loved one can lead happy, healthy lives. You can do it alone, but it’s better as a team.

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