Relationships and Cancer
- A recent entry to the popular advice column “Dear Abby” explores the topic of relationships and cancer.
- Facing cancer 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.
Popular American advice column “Dear Abby” has seen the likes many different scenarios over the years. But a recent entry from a “worn-out wife” caught our attention. The woman’s letter reads as follows:
Read More“DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been married for nine years. While we were dating, he was kind, considerate and loving. After we married, he turned into a chronic complainer, something he later confessed he had been hiding while we dated.He talks to me like I’m trash and then gets nice when he wants something. He complains about my grown children, my best friend and even if I leave for work a couple of minutes early. He is a miserable person. I cannot do anything to make him happy. I can’t take this anymore.He has taken the things away from me that I love — flowers, gardening, pets, books, friends, etc. I’m ready to leave, but he has cancer and I’d feel guilty. He is clear right now, but it will come back.
I don’t want to stay. Life is too short to live this way. He has a great support system with his family. They would take care of him. My health has been affected by him and his terrible attitude. What do I do? — WORN-OUT WIFE”
It’s understandable that the woman from the case above would feel “guilty” leaving her partner. Cancer can be an emotionally and physically exhaustive experience, and it’s great to have good people by your side during your fight.
But the wife was clearly unhappy in her marriage outside of her husband developing cancer. So, it’s understandable that she feels she needs to leave the unhealthy relationship.
For the sake of our readers, however, we’d like to give cancer warriors and caregivers advice as we explore the ever-important topic of relationships and cancer.
Relationships and Cancer
Dealing with cancer — or any sort of health battle for that matter — can be overwhelming, so having physical and emotional support is crucial. That being said, it’s very important to know your limits on what you can handle as you undergo treatment and recover from your cancer, and that includes relationships.
“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 said 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.”