This week’s guest post comes from Sandy. She shares with us the challenges that arise when a spouse has cancer. She also offers some excellent advice about attitudes and actions that she finds helpful in making a devastating situation more tolerable and manageable.
This is probably one of the more, if not the most, difficult life experiences to write about. Effectively coping with my husband’s cancer, plus being a positive influence on him, are challenges that I did not expect nor sign up for.
For both of us, this is our third marriage. We met as teens in an ice rink in a mall in Gaithersburg, Maryland. We “dated” as best as we could with a 25-mile distance, no car, and old Ma Bell as our communication tool. Over time we drifted apart and saw less of each other. He invited me to his Senior Homecoming as he was nominated “King,” and had one other “date” a few years later; that was it.
About ten years ago, at this time of year, I was single and began an internet search for him. It was five months before I found a list of people from high school that included email addresses, and he was listed as Senior Class President. I contacted him and asked if he was the same guy who rode his bike 25 miles on a day to see me. He replied, “it’s me!” He was living in Missouri at the time and going through a divorce. I had given up all hope of ever finding true love after two failed marriages. Our first phone call after over 25 years of not speaking changed all that. We have been together ever since.
Before he moved down to Florida, he had a cold/virus that affected his tonsils and while the one on the left side went away, the one on the right did not. It swelled and grew larger over a span of 9 years. Eventually we learned it was cancer. It has now ulcerated to the point where it must be covered up 24/7 as it protrudes outwardly on the right of his neck. He is in pain all day and sleeps very little.
I have learned that patience is key to supporting someone you love who has cancer. Learning how to react to them is important. Go with the flow, ask what they need, and how you can help. They are the best one to tell you what it is and what they want/need at that moment in time. The pain they experience is situational and can vary. When you ask, be careful of the timing of the question as this can either be positive or hurtful to then. Do not interpret their response as something that is meant to be anger toward you personally. Remember, they are in constant pain and need to be approached with the utmost care and love that can be given. Respect their wishes, regardless how they may seem to you. This attitude is how I cope with what he is going through and it helps both of us immensely.
How to cope is defined by the person who is unfortunately going through these situations. Their decisions on how they wish to be treated must be respected. Encourage and uphold what they want and support them. You would want the same in return. Although you may not agree 100%, this is their decision. When they search for ways to deal with the illness, be aware of what they are doing and educate yourself about the strategies they want to pursue. This is especially important when it involves non-traditional and non-Western medicine.
Another coping method during this time is to find time to vent your feelings about what you are going through. Talk to someone you can trust, keep a journal, and do not keep your emotions trapped inside, only to explode later, possibly at the one who has the cancer.
And, of course, read this blog. The terrific hosts and writers can be excellent resources to lean upon, especially in time of emotional need.