After being diagnosed with cancer, I’m sure many of you are often asked, how are you doing? All the time. Most of you probably answer politely saying that you have your good days and your bad, but that you’re getting through it. When deep down all you really want to answer is to say “cancer sucks!”
While these check-ins are meant to be supportive, many patients have told me and other researchers that it becomes frustrating, tiring and out right annoying to answer these questions over and over again.
But have you ever noticed, that while all those people are asking you how you’re doing, are many of them asking how your partner’s doing? Probably not.
When it comes to cancer, typically most of the support is offered to the patient and the partner often gets neglected. Now while it makes sense that everyone offers supports to patients, unfortunately, research has shown that partners experiences AS MUCH IF NOT MORE DISTRESS than patients.
This may come as a surprise, but if you think about it- while patients are getting treatment the partners just have to be supportive, work, take care of things at home maybe children or the household responsibilities while trying to be the beacon of strength for the patient, maintaining a positive outlook, keeping back tears, anger or frustration.
Meanwhile throughout all of this they are WATCHING the patient go through cancer treatment and it’s sometimes awful side effects, unable to protect the patient or do anything else to FIGHT the cancer.
Over time, all of this can take its toll on partners and next thing ya know, partners are experiencing clinically significant distress, but often try not to show it, coping alone. And the reality for partners of individuals with cancer, is that cancer sucks! Unfortunately, the partner rarely gets offered or asks for support is or asked how THEY are.
Here’s three tips for patients to better support partners, so that TOGETHER you can support one another and cope with cancer as effectively as possible:
1. Check in with your partner and ask them how they’re coping with your cancer and its side effects. Try starting off the conversation by acknowledging that your cancer has impacted both you and your partner. Perhaps try saying, “I know that we’ve BOTH been impacted by my cancer.” Next, ask how your partner, “how have you been coping?”
Just by asking this simple question you are opening the door to supporting one another and allowing your partner to discuss their concerns open and honestly.
2. Encourage your partner to do things on their own or with their friends, so that they focus on their own self-care. While this may be challenging to plan for logistically, it’s important for partners to have breaks to re-charge and be steady for the long-haul.
3. Recommend that your partner get support if they are experiencing symptoms of distress. While most of what you read on the Internet or see in the clinic may focus on supporting patients, there are plenty of support services for partners. Keep in mind that everyone has a different way of coping, so psychotherapy might not work for everyone, including your partner. However, psychotherapy can be a great starting place for your partner to begin to get support and then identify alternative strategies to cope more effectively.