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Think About Your Reactions to Cancer

  • As a well partner, you may experience a wide range of feelings, thoughts, and reactions, including:

    • Fear that your partner may die
    • Confusion and uncertainty
    • Sadness and anxiety
    • Guilt, anger, and/or resentment
    • Exhaustion
    • Doubt that you can manage the sheer range and volume of challenges resulting from the diagnosis
    • Loneliness and dissatisfaction with changes in your and your partner's physical or emotional closeness

    Some families may also experience:

    • Satisfaction and/or pride in how they are managing
    • Optimism, appreciation, and renewed or strengthened faith
    • Pessimism, resentment, and loss of faith
    • Increased ability to live "in the moment," and a heightened awareness of what is important
    • Increased closeness with friends and family

    For most people, these reactions change over time, depending upon circumstances. You may respond differently when your partner is diagnosed than when his or her treatment ends. You may be discouraged when your partner has a setback, and relieved when the news is good. At times, you may feel optimistic, closer to your partner than ever before, and grateful for all that is good in your life. At other times, you will feel the opposite.

    When you are able to cope successfully with some aspects of your partner's diagnosis and treatment, you may find you have more energy and are better able to function in other parts of your life

    To help you understand your reactions to your partner's illness, ask yourself some questions. How do you sort out your thoughts and feelings in other, less stressful situations? Do you talk with your partner, friends, or family? If so, who is best able to be your sounding board in this situation? Or do you try to work things out for yourself by thinking, writing, or letting thoughts and feelings drift in and out of your awareness without judging or censoring them?

    Would it be helpful to talk with other families who are also dealing with a cancer diagnosis?

    Some people — even those not used to seeking outside assistance — find it useful to participate in cancer support groups. Other group participants may be dealing with similar concerns and also raising children while facing cancer. Strategies for coping, practical tips, common concerns, and support are shared in groups. Hospitals, treatment centers, and other organizations often offer such support groups for both caregivers and partners, or they can refer you elsewhere.

    Some people, however, are not comfortable in groups. In this case, individual counselors, social workers, therapists, other mental health clinicians, or religious leaders may be more helpful.

    Sometimes coping consists of temporarily setting aside your feelings while you take care of more pressing matters. This is quite different from ignoring or "locking up your reactions" as if they didn't exist (an approach that doesn't work in the long run).

    When you have other important obligations that you just can't ignore or postpone, try to allow yourself to concentrate on them without feeling guilty or uncaring. You might find this easier if you can arrange for others to be "on call" to your partner and children during this stretch of time.

    Look for alternate ways to gather information and share ideas

    If you simply cannot add one more appointment or responsibility to your day, consider reviewing other health-related websites. Many health or disease focused organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, sponsor sites containing medical updates, postings from readers, and even chat rooms. These websites are available 24 hours a day, so you can view them at your convenience. And you can spend as little, or as much, time as you have available. One such site is Cancer Connect, a private online community where patients and caregivers can connect and discuss common concerns or issues. Many patients and caregivers also find social networking sites, such as Twitter, to be effective in finding others across the world who are experiencing similar circumstances.

    The following sites may also be useful to caregivers: