As the partner of someone going through Cancer treatment you will have to deal with a range of emotions that the patient will be going through. They are likely to feel shock, anger, helplessness, hope, sadness, joy, depression, courage, fear, emptiness, strength, weakness and every other type of emotion. They might even feel all these on the same day because Cancer is definitely a rollercoaster.
As the partner, what can you do to help smooth the ride?
Share your feelings!
I have found one of the most important things to do is be open, share your feelings genuinely with your partner, good and bad. A problem shared is a problem halved and that has worked for us. It’s ok for you to cry to feel the shock, just as it is for them, don’t hide your feelings. Initially I tried to be all strong and brave, but Jo needed to know I was scared as well, that I cared, that I had the same worries and fears as she had, that way we could talk more openly once we knew where each other’s head was at.
It is important however to not be a drain on the patient, you have to be strong most of the time, be supportive, reassure them when they feel weak, provide them hope when they feel helpless. Hold them tight when they need it. Don’t downplay their emotions but don’t escalate them either, look for options, be positive but be honest.
Remember who you are.
Don’t forget who you were before Cancer came along, your partner is not just a Cancer victim, he or she is still the partner they were before and their needs may not have changed. They will still want to be wanted and loved, they will still want to laugh and have fun. You should do your best to make sure Cancer doesn’t take these things away from you. Try and do things you did before, go out, be a couple or stay at home and snuggle on the sofa, whatever you did before and if it was good for your relationship don’t let it disappear. It may not be possible to go clubbing during chemo but doesn’t mean you can’t have a slow dance in the kitchen.
The ‘love’ thing.
When you have treatment, whether that be surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, it will often result in changes to the patients body, from mastectomy’s, hair loss, menopausal symptoms, burns, scars and wounds. All these changes can impact the patients confidence and especially when it comes to intimacy with a partner. They may fear you seeing them naked, they may be sore from treatments or sex may not be as easy as before due to the physical changes. They may also fear rejection from you, it may well be they will believe there is no way you could still fancy them or want to be intimate with them again.
These types of fears and insecurities are hard to overcome even for the most experienced of couples, even myself and Jo who have been together 20 years, who we would like to think we are solid as a rock and have always had a strong intimate relationship (sorry kids!) struggled initially with this. Jo was not offered a reconstruction to start with and to be honest she wouldn’t have taken it if she had in case it delayed her treatment. On more than one occasion she told me to leave her and find someone else ‘less damaged’, as well as insisting I would never see her naked again. We could have done that, gone on with the lights off, always wearing a vest etc but that was something I personally didn’t want to happen, I love her unconditionally and I didn’t want her to share only part of herself with me. We discussed/argued this point from early on before even the mastectomy had happened and I reassured her that I didn’t marry her for her boobs and I wasn’t about to leave her for them either. Also what if I lost a leg or an arm would I hide it away from her, she conceded the point and from the moment her bandages came off I saw her scars and though I know she doesn’t really like it, I have made her comfortable enough to not hide away.
Now following such a major operation and a break from normal bedroom activities the first time you ‘sleep’ together can be rather scary (sorry kids again!!). There can be fear on both sides, your partner may fear rejection because of the changes to their body or they may think you might not fancy them anymore, they may not like how they look and no longer feel attractive, not just to you but maybe more importantly in their own eyes.
Also there may be fear on your side, You may be scared of hurting your partner after all they may have recently had a large operation and also you may be scared of acting the wrong way, doing the wrong thing, upsetting them, it’s a pressurised situation, you might even be scared of not performing. I know I was terrified of upsetting Jo, what if I did the wrong thing, would I ever get another chance. i think for us the key was to ensure the situation was right, it was better to delay than rush in and make a disaster of it, to talk and ensure we were both ready, to air our fears and reassure each other. I think if we hadn’t communicated beforehand it could have been so different but instead I told her I was scared to hurt her and that I felt a lot of pressure, that I still fancied her and in the end our fears were unfounded and we now still have the close intimate relationship we had before.
Inevitably Cancer brings huge changes to your life and also to your relationships. There is no right or wrong, there is no simple guide to how people react and relate to each other, you have to find your way, but try and do it as a couple, trying to find it independently will most likely lead you, to diverging paths. Holding hands as you walk down the path of recovery will hopefully mean when you reach a crossroads or a problem, you will stay together, supporting each other all the way.
If you want further information MacMillan do a good information leaflet. Details can be found at https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/relationships/your-sex-life-and-sexuality