Love is a Journey: Couples Facing Cancer
Six Stages of the Couple's Journey with Cancer and Strategies for Keeping a Strong Loving Relationship
TOOLS FOR THE JOURNEY
There are tools available for you to use on this emotional, as well as physical, journey. The tools described in this chapter are to be used throughout the journey with cancer, rather than saved for a specific time or situation.
If you were taking a journey on foot, you would be advised to wear good shoes, drink water regularly, and take appropriate rests throughout the hike. By doing these things you are increasing the probability that you will feel better throughout the hike, maintain the stamina to complete the journey, and reduce the likelihood for injuries. The same applies to the journey with cancer. By using the tools described, you will gain the same advantages, as individuals and as a couple, to meet the challenges of this journey. As with any journey, these tools are not magic; the road is still long and the hills are steep and tiring. There is no easy ride, no shortcut when facing cancer, and each couple must find the best way for them to travel as individuals and as a team. The tools described in this chapter are basic and available to all. Take the time to use them; practice. Check the list periodically to see what you've overlooked lately, and get assistance from friends or counselors for the tools that are new, awkward, or uncomfortable for you. Use these tools to keep yourselves and your relationship physically and emotionally as healthy as possible. Doing so will help you meet the many challenges, cope with difficulties that may feel overwhelming at times, and be able to be open to love and joy during this journey.
Sometimes it is tempting to just tough it out and think that good times will come later when this is over. This is a bad idea. Your time with cancer may be lengthy or short term, but whichever it is, it will change your life forever. You now know that it can really happen, that you and your spouse are vulnerable to a life-threatening illness. The denial with which most of us live has been shattered. By using these tools you will be strengthening, building, and broadening the way the two of you face death and live life.
TOOL ONE: ACCEPTANCE
It is natural to have very intense emotions when facing a life-threatening illness such as cancer. It may even seem that your feelings, actions, reactions, and interactions are so strong as to be irrational.
Carol cried deep, racking sobs for what seemed like days during times of distressing news and change.
Judy, Larry and Bruce went through periods of being hyper-conscious of every body twitch and change, fearing it might be cancer.
Larry traveled a lot and attempted to see everyone and engage in all his favorite activities.
Jane started snapping at co-workers.
Carol couldn't concentrate well.
Many, many examples could be given, none of which are signs of mental illness or not coping. These behaviors are normal ways of coping with an abnormal situation. The goal is not to stop them as soon as possible in order to get back to your old self, or to start acting more like the rest of the world. The goal is to trust yourself and your body. Be patient with yourself and observe how this attitude might be helpful over time.
It is very painful for spouses to experience their partners living out such extreme distress. It's tempting to try to fix things to make them feel better, or at least act better. It's more useful, however, to help your partner feel entitled to these normal emotions and to feel safe about expressing them.
Validate yourself and your partner during times of intense emotions. Remind yourselves that intensity comes with the territory of this journey; its part of how we humans process and adjust. You and your partner may need to educate friends and relatives who are worried about you.
Be aware that your feelings and expressions of those feelings towards each other may increase in intensity and this will require change and adjustment. Try not to evaluate what goes on now with the scale you used before. As you look at the situation, try to understand what is normal in these abnormal times. It is not only the negative feelings that will increase in intensity. You may find that the tenderness you feel for your loved ones moves you to tears, or the joy and appreciation of a sunrise feels overwhelming. All of life has increased intensity, and your emotions will reflect that.
If either of you has concern that there is any danger to self or others as a result of this intensity, talk with a professional counselor. It would be most helpful to seek out one who has experience in dealing with situations of life-threatening illness and loss. This professional needs to be one who understands the intensity and dynamics of such a situation.
By Jan Latona, Ph.D. & Gary J. Stricklin, Ph.D.
The diagnosis of "cancer" is frightening enough for the patient. But the disease has a deep impact on the patient's partner and the couple's relationship as well. Life is not the same, and a new journey has begun.
This book, drawing on the personal experience of the authors and many others, offers a compassionate guide for the journey with cancer. Those who find themselves on this most difficult road will learn how other couples have coped successfully. With the tool kit offered on these pages, couples can do more than endure the ordeal; they can actually strengthen the bond between them.
Love is a Journey teaches:
The 8 tools that every couple can use every day to increase love and vitality in their relationship while facing cancer together
The 6 stages that couples experience after cancer has been diagnosed
Insight to what is happening and what to expect
How other couples have coped successfully
Activities to strengthen each individual and the relationship