Relationships during a Health Battle
- A New Jersey couple, Bettina and Lane Morrell, have been faced with so much in recent years. But from Bettina’s battle with colon cancer to now Lane’s fight against flesh-eating bacteria, the couple has supported each other through the toughest of times.
- Facing cancer – or any health battle for that matter – can be a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience, so it can help to have a strong relationship to lean on for support. That being said, it’s important to notice what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much during your health battle – and that includes your relationships.
- There’s ample evidence that health outcomes are better when somebody has an incredible caregiver by their side, according to one of our experts. But being a good caregiver also means taking care of yourself.
After struggling with pain in her abdomen, Bettina was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer back in early October 2020. The New Jersey mother of two then underwent surgery to remove her tumor and four of her lymph nodes followed by a six-and-a-half-month course of chemotherapy treatments. Thankfully, she’s doing better today.Read More
But the family’s health scares are not even close to being over. In November 2021, Lane was hospitalized for pneumonia and discharged after a few days. Then, just a few days after that, the 49-year-old father was hunched over in the bathroom surrounded by a bloody floor. He was suffering from flesh-eating bacteria.
Lane then spent 80 days in the hospital and underwent 17 surgeries. The 6-foot-4 man also lost 60 pounds going from 210 to 150.
“They say God only gives you what you can handle,” Lane said. “He definitely pushed the limits, but you try to be positive because what’s the alternative?”
He’s also been struggling to keep his contracting business, Premier Design Concepts, going through everything, but Bettina has pushed herself to help keep the company afloat.
“I’ve pushed myself a little too much, and I did develop three hernias,” Bettina said. “Once Lane gets back on his feet I have to have that surgery, but that’s so minute compared to everything else we’ve gone through. I wear a brace around my waist; that’s the least of my worries right now.”
And she does this all while continuing to take care of their kids (ages 13 and 10) and help Lane recover by dressing his open wounds every day.
“She is by far the best wife you could ever ask for,” Lane said. “The first time she undid the bandage and the tub filled with blood, I almost passed out. For her to stand there and deal with it like it was not a problem — very strong.”
For now, he’s trying to get rid of his walking cane and recover from his wounds, but Bettina has a good perspective on facing everything they’ve gone through together.
“As crazy as it sounds, with everything I’ve been through, I don’t care if we lose everything,” Bettina said, prioritizing her husband’s health. “As long as we have him, we’ll work everything else out.”
Having Support from a Partner during a Cancer Battle
It’s no secret that fighting cancer, or facing any health battle, can be extremely overwhelming. So, having physical and emotional support during your battle is crucial. That being said, it’s very important to know your limits on what you can handle – including relationships – as you undergo treatment and recover from your health issue.
“Going through [cancer] treatment is a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin wrote in a column for SurvivorNet. “Noticing what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much… [is] extremely important to pay attention to as you navigate treatment.”
Dr. Strongin does note, however, that having people by your side during this “arduous chapter” of your life can be hugely beneficial.
“Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery,” she wrote. “Therefore, it will be important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment.”
For actress and melanoma survivor Jill Kargman, cancer was a true test of the strength for her relationship. In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Kargman says the disease “is a great way to find out if you’re with the love of your life or a shithead.”
“I think it presses the fast forward button on getting to the bottom of that answer, because a lot of people in middle age are kind of at a crossroads, waiting for their kids to fly the coop,” Kargman said. “I think if you’re with someone who is not supportive and kind of emotionally checked out or doesn’t tell you you’re still beautiful with that, this might not be your person.”
Tips for Caregivers
Being a caregiver is not easy. Sometimes the dynamic of a relationship can change when a partner fills that role, but it’s important to acknowledge the complexities of that role and do what you can – as the person needing care or the caregiver – to communicate needs on both ends.
“Caregiving is the most important job in the universe, because you are there through the highs and lows,” Julie Bulger, manager of patient and family-centered care at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, TN, tells SurvivorNet. “You are there to support your loved one, to manage all of the daily tasks as everything is changing in your life.”
Bulger’s advice is to try to prevent or reduce the risk of caregiver burnout, or the stress, anger, fatigue and illness that can result from putting another person’s needs above your own.
“It is important to have some things that you can do outside of the focus of caring for somebody that you love with cancer,” she said.
According to Bulger, doing so can look as simple as taking a walk or getting a massage, but it can also mean visiting a support group for cancer caregivers and/or seeing a therapist if you’re struggling to cope with all of the weighty responsibilities. Regardless of how you chose to prioritize your own health, it’s important to understand that research shows that caregivers who take good care of themselves provide the best quality of care. So, by taking care of yourself, you are “helping your loved one in more ways than you know.”
“There’s so much evidence that outcomes are better when somebody has an incredible caregiver by their side,” Bulger said.
Jesus Trejo’s profession doesn’t revolve around caregiving, but he most certainly knows what it means to be a cancer caregiver. And, in the true spirit of his job as a stand-up comedian in Long Beach, California, his advice for caregivers is simple: laugh often.
Trejo became a caregiver for both of his parents after his mother was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and his father was later faced with colon cancer. But instead of panicking and focusing on the devastating nature of the situation, the only child stepped up to care for his parents with love – and laughter. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Trejo explained how he put his career aside to care for his parents in their time of need while remaining positive and making time to smile along the way.
“The only advice I have for anyone watching this is laugh — and laugh often, laugh at yourself,” Trejo told SurvivorNet. “Don’t take yourself seriously. Things are already bad. Because once you do that, it’s a game-changer.”
He also says the laughter itself might be brief, but “the effects of it just reverberate through your body, and can change an already bad situation into a better one.”