Everyone gathers around the patient, but what about the partners of breast cancer patients? When you take the burdens of the everyday home duties away from your partner, you suddenly have twice the responsibility, twice the worry and twice the demands on your time. With the added and new duty of being the rock for your partner and perhaps your children, you may be thinking, “when do I get to concentrate on me again?”
Finding Local Support
When you learn of your partner’s diagnosis, you need to identify family and friends, or community support systems you can rely on when you become weary. From time to time you'll probably experience what the medical community terms as “caregiver burnout.” At some point, weariness, frustration, fear, and sheer exhaustion may set in and you will simply need a break. Before you get to the burnout point and risk your own mental and physical health, know your point people who can step in and take the children out for the day, or come into the home and let you have a day or a few hours to do some of the activities you enjoy.
Support groups for partners of breast cancer victims frequently run meeting at churches and hospitals. These groups offer terrific resources if you need to talk to others who will understand your experience, and get workable solutions to your challenges.
Everyone has probably heard of the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer, but you may not have heard of another national program that offers a unique support program for partners of breast cancer victims. The Y-Me has designed a support program called "Partner Match" that offers one-on-one counseling with volunteer peer counselors who are also partners of breast cancer victims. After your partner is finished with treatment and becomes a breast cancer survivor, you can in turn volunteer your time to be a peer counselor and help someone else’s partner through a difficult time.
Supporting the Children
Even toddlers can understand that something is different in the household. You will have to assume a larger role in their care which could mean everything from making dinner, running nightly baths, or being the taxi for teens that your partner used to manage. Again, family and friends can take some of this burden off of you. Consider setting up a unique “play” evening with a grandparent or an aunt where the children have dinner or go to a movie with a relative. The children need a “time out” from cancer where no illness is discussed and only fun is on the menu.
If your children are old enough to understand what cancer is, they are going to ask questions for which you may not have answers. Sitting down with your partner to address your children’s concerns will offer more comfort than if you sat down alone and talked to them. Children need to see the family is still a cohesive unit that will work through this difficult time together.
Take a Deep Breath
You will not have all the answers or know perfectly how to embark on the breast cancer journey with your partner. No one does. This is a time of uncertainty and stress, but you are not taking the journey alone. Your partner needs you for support, but your partner can also support you. Although you may wish to protect your partner from all the stresses of the everyday family life, ask your partner how much they can handle. Frequently, they can tell you that they’re stronger and capable of doing much more than you think.
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How do you cope with family stress? Do you and your partner always ensure that you stand as a united, stable force in the face of challenges?