A breast cancer diagnosis always has a profound ripple effect on the patient’s closest family members, not least of all his or her life partner.
Partners can often find themselves plunged into roles they’re not necessarily familiar with – suddenly becoming primary caregivers, housekeepers, more active parents or playing a supportive role they weren’t previously accustomed to.
While women often have a broader network of supportive friends, for men in particular the sudden vulnerability of their partners can be extremely isolating. But for anyone supporting a loved one through cancer the challenges remain the same.
It’s imperative for any caregiver to find ways to look after themselves while nursing or supporting a sick loved one – whether this is a regular sporting activity, an evening with friends, joining a support group or seeing a therapist, looking after one’s own emotional health must be a priority.
If you suddenly find yourself shouldering domestic responsibilities you aren’t accustomed to, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. No one expects you to manage on your own, and anyone who cares for you and your family will probably be looking for ways to help, and will jump at the chance.
Try to fight the inherent urge to fix everything. Cancer treatment can be long and unpredictable – flexibility and patience is key. Your partner, the patient, will struggle enough with this, try not to exacerbate the frustration of having to wait for the outcome of tests and treatments, and focus on supporting your partner along whatever path cancer takes you.
Roll with the punches. She will be moody, and sad, some days she may be inexplicably upbeat. Remember not to take irritability personally, not to be resentful if she has a good visit with a friend after a not so pleasant few days with you. Your partner, your friend, is facing demons you sadly can’t protect her from; give her the space to battle them as best she can.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Talk about how you’re feeling, how she’s feeling – or talk about not wanting to talk about that stuff. Keep those channels of communication clear and honest.
Don’t be physically worried about hurting her. Continue to touch her even if sex is not an option after surgery or during treatment. A foot massage, hugs, lying in front of the TV together maintains intimacy and shows her that you still have a physical connection. Your bodies have their own language, keep them fluent.
Look after yourself. A physical or emotional burnout won’t help anyone, least of all you.
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