Caring for Someone with Cancer

I’ll be honest, caring for someone with cancer is difficult. It’s not the caring per se, you love that person and would do anything for them, it’s the not knowing and not really understanding that’s tough. Below are a few bits of advice that may help, at least I hope so:

  1. Give yourself time to process what you’ve been told when you first receive the diagnosis. It’s a huge shock when you hear the “C” word and there is no ‘normal’ reaction. You may break down or you may feel numb, you might ask the doctors loads of questions or say nothing; it doesn’t matter. You need to be there both for your spouse and for yourself and sometimes living with cancer is a long journey so don’t be too hard on yourself in the beginning.
  2. Talk with your spouse about how they feel after the diagnosis but only if they want to. Just as you may have been stunned when you heard, that may have been their reaction too. If they don’t want to talk, it’s not because they don’t want to talk to you necessarily, just that they are not ready.
  3. If your spouse doesn’t want to talk to you but would prefer to talk to a friend, family member or a profession again, don’t take it personally. The “C” word is synonymous with death in many people’s minds and someone who loves you will be afraid of hurting you by having that discussion with you, even if the prognosis given is completely positive. Many people recover completely from cancer but it’s still the bogeyman of illnesses.
  4. Don’t think that you have to be someone else. Your spouse loves you for who you are – warts and all; they won’t expect you to be a hero so don’t feel like you have to try. It’s natural that you will want to be strong for the person most dear to you but being strong is not hiding all your emotions in the hope that you won’t upset them.
  5. Leave time for you. You may be inclined to smother your spouse, to cater to their every whim and desire but, if that’s not the way you normally behave, then don’t. You don’t know how long the journey with cancer will last so you will need energy reserves – set aside a few hours or even a few minutes each day to do something nice for yourself.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may be the kind of person who doesn’t like to feel that they’re a burden to others but you will need support. Your spouse will have you there to support them so make sure you have people looking out for you.
  7. Try not to feel guilty. It’s very common to feel guilty about loads of things when you are caring for someone with cancer – the fact that it’s them and not you, the fact that you can still do things that they may not be able to, the fact that sometimes you feel angry or frustrated…..One of the most important things with this disease, for you and the person you love, is to stay positive – if you feel yourself having any kind of negative emotions talk to someone about it!
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the medical professionals. You will probably speak to a lot of them and may only understand about half of what they tell you. If you don’t understand something ask; if you still don’t understand, ask again. There is lots of information on the internet but it can be confusing and can set alarm bells ringing when there may be no need. The doctors and nurses who deal with cancer patients are there to help you so insist that they take their time so that you are sure you have all the facts.
  9. Tell other people what’s going on. If you work and continue to do so while your partner is ill, there will be days when you are not at your best; tired, worried, stressed etc. If your workplace colleagues and your boss have no idea what’s going on at home they won’t realise that you have a very good reason for being below par. Talk to someone in HR or directly with your manager and explain that you may need time off or just a little bit of understanding if you’re having a rough day.
  10. Try not to worry. I know this sounds a little bit crazy under the circumstances but worrying will not change anything at all and it will not help you in your journey. Worry and stress will take a toll on your health and your emotional well-being and this will not help your spouse at all. As my late husband used to say “worry is like riding a rocking horse; it gives you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere.

For links to organisations that can help you

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