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How to Support a Spouse who Has Cancer: 10 Steps


If your spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, what you never expected and never wanted to happen has just become all too real and all too personal to both of you. As much as you might want to wish it away, to reset everything back to the way it was before, you can’t. There are, however, many things that you can do to make the process easier for your spouse and yourself.

  1. Get past the initial shock together. If your spouse was just diagnosed with cancer, it is normal and natural for you both to feel shaken and scared, angry, tearful, and many other emotions.

    • Hold each other. The most important thing you can give your spouse right now is your love.
    • Don’t be too afraid to show own feelings at this time. You’re scared because you love him or her.
    • Take your time. If it takes a whole evening or a whole weekend or longer to begin to come to grips with the diagnosis, let it.
  2. Listen to and love your spouse. This may be the most valuable thing you can do right now. You know your spouse better than anyone else, and you trust each other. Besides, isn’t it what you asked of each other in the first place?

    • Understand that neither you nor your spouse may have the right words to talk about these things. You may have awkward moments, and you may have to agree with each other that any words (even if they are not the “right” ones) are better than no words.
  3. Notify family and friends. This may be as hard as receiving the diagnosis yourself. If you are up to it, offer to make at least some of the difficult phone calls for your spouse.

    • If you can’t bring yourself to tell many people, tell one or two and ask them to help do the retelling. The truth will still be unpleasant, but at least it won’t be unpleasant all alone.
    • You need not be in the spotlight now, either. It is enough to get through this, whatever way you can.
    • In the longer term, consider setting up a blog, email list, or some other communication network to keep friends and family informed of your spouse’s progress without having to share news repeatedly with each individual.
    • Part of your role may be to field questions and suggestions from concerned family and friends. Nobody knows what to say at a time like this. Some of the questions will be painful, and it’s possible that some suggestions will be unhelpful or “too helpful.” Some will be too honest or too tactful. They may even challenge or contradict your beliefs. Remember that these people mean well. If you have no better response, a simple “Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts” is a good way to acknowledge their concern.
  4. Get both your and your spouse’s families involved, as appropriate. Family is whatever you and your spouse define it to be. Choose people whom you trust. Neither you nor your spouse need to go through this alone.

    • Try to give people something they can do even if it is something simple like bringing food to share when they come to visit. Most people are eager to help but don’t know how.
  5. Take care of yourself. No, you’re not the one who was just handed a diagnosis, but you need to stay well enough to help. When you travel on an airplane, you are instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. The same principle holds for helping your spouse.

    1. This may mean doing things like getting enough sleep, continuing to eat healthfully, and even taking a day off now and then (leaving the care to others whom you trust, as needed).


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  6. Make plans. This is the dreaded “getting your affairs in order.” While it’s unpleasant to think about, and it may even seem selfish to you, both of you should be prepared in case the worst does happen. Think of it this way: even if your spouse survives the cancer, you will both feel more comfortable knowing that you have put your personal affairs in order.

    • Prepare or update your will and/or trust. You may need to consult with an attorney.
    • Keep your spouse’s existing medical insurance current. If it drops for any reason, it will be difficult or impossible to reinstate it later.
    • Prepare a power of attorney (or equivalent document, for both financial matters and health care decisions.
    • Prepare an emergency health care directive stating your spouse’s wishes clearly regarding extraordinary measures. Discuss with your spouse’s doctor or another knowledgeable professional as to what procedures you will need to make firm decisions about: CPR, feeding tubes, respirators. Make your decisions well before an emergency occurs and be clear about what measures your spouse would like to be taken, and what he or she would prefer to avoid.
    • Make sure your financial accounts and major assets (vehicles, house, etc.) are in both of your names and that you both have easy access to them.
    • Review and, if necessary, update the beneficiary information on any retirement or investment accounts that have it.
    • Get your user names, passwords, and security questions in order and available to both of you.
    • Make arrangements for childcare in the event of your spouse’s death or if you are called upon to spend more time caring for your spouse. It might be helpful to have a group of neighbors willing to care for your children any time of day or night. Perhaps they can coordinate a schedule amongst themselves.
    • Discuss plans and preferences for burial or cremation and any related services. Remember, you may not need to execute these plans; they will not hasten your spouse’s death. But you will spare yourself from making difficult, uncomfortable decisions at an even more uncomfortable time. Funeral arrangements can be expensive, so you may wish to set aside funds in advance, too.
    • Learn to perform any tasks that have been the responsibility (or mostly the responsibility) of your spouse. This may mean identifying the bills to pay each month, learning to cook, or caring for your spouse’s pets or garden.
    • Collect your contacts or address book information all in one place. While there may not be any direct legal or financial relevance, it will help immensely in keeping track of and informing old friends.
  7. Attend to your own career and finances. You will have to set priorities, but if you have a job and can keep it, it will help in all kinds of ways.

    • Look into your options for taking time off in case you need to care for your spouse. There may be different options depending on your place of employment as well as your state or local laws. Your human resources department should be able to point you in the right direction.
    • Inform your supervisor in advance that you may need to take a leave of absence.
    • Set aside a savings account if you can. It will help with medical expenses and it will see you through in case you need to take any unpaid leave.
    • If your spouse becomes incapacitated, find out whether he or she is eligible to collect disability insurance, sickness benefits, and in-home health care.
  8. Indulge your spouse’s new eating preferences. Chemotherapy can cause nausea, but it can also cause flavors to taste “off”; food may taste metallic or bitter. Gently encourage your spouse to eat what he/she can. Ask what tastes good and find a way to cook it or get it. Don’t be troubled if your spouse’s preferences have changed.
    • If you eat out, you can always order something else for yourself in a restaurant.
    • Your spouse may eat little and keep down even less while undergoing chemotherapy. Ask your doctors what to expect and what special steps to take if or when this happens.
  9. Help to adapt your living space to your spouse’s changing needs and capacities. Depending on your spouse’s condition and treatments, he or she may come to have difficulty climbing stairs, standing for extended periods, and doing other things you had taken for granted before. Your spouse’s needs may change with time, and you most likely know best what adaptations are necessary at any given time, but here are some general considerations.

    • Stairs may pose a particular challenge for an individual with limited mobility. You may need to arrange ground-floor living quarters and bathroom facilities.
    • A ramp can cover entrance and exit steps.
    • Clear ample space and pathways for walker or wheelchair use.
    • Remember that medical supplies and equipment may be rented, and that medical insurance may help to cover the costs of such things as wheelchairs, walkers, hospital-style adjustable beds, oxygen machines, and many other things.
    • Doctors and hospice staff can help with specific suggestions for your spouse’s condition.
  10. Understand all you can about your spouse’s illness and care. Your understanding will result in timing friend and family visits, preparing for those difficult days following chemotherapy sessions, and providing a schedule that fosters well-being and recovery.

    • Ask questions of your spouse’s doctors and nurses. These questions may be about anything from where the cancer is to what special care your spouse may need at home. Be alert to times when your spouse isn’t able or willing to ask relevant questions.
    • Help keep track of symptoms and side-effects your spouse experiences between treatments. Side effects that ensue from radiation and chemotherapy treatments range from nausea to sleeplessness to hiccups and acne. If you are informed, many of these side-effects can be alleviated. Write down the information you receive. In this situation, you may find that you cannot rely solely on your memory.
    • Talk openly and be honest, give doctors and nurses the best and clearest information you can, and trust them to provide the best care they can.
    • Keep detailed notes on all of the medications your spouse takes. A written list, either on the computer or handwritten, can be of great help. Ask pharmacists or others to make sure you know both the brand name and generic names of drugs, and keep track of the dosage and frequency. You should be prepared to brief any medical professional on this vital information.
    • You can help your spouse a great deal by acting as a patient advocate in this way.


Via : wikihow

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