24.9.13

#BloodCancerAwarenessMonth Q&A: "My spouse is AWOL since my cancer diagnosis. WTF?"

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: My husband has been totally AWOL since my cancer diagnosis, working late, leaving early, eating dinner in front of the TV and barely speaking to me. WTF?

Ashley says: It can be very stressful and hurtful to become disconnected with your partner after such a major medical diagnosis. You are not alone in your experience. Many patients go through a similar shift in their relationships and the key to getting through it is communication.

A diagnosis such as cancer can mean big changes in a relationship physically and emotionally. Good open communication is called for to help both partners adjust. Perhaps your husband does not know how to react to the diagnosis. He could be distancing himself in preparation for the worst possible outcome that he may lose you to the cancer. It is important to share your fears and concerns with each other and use this as a way to come together in strength. It is okay to be scared, but the positive support of having each other helps your overall well being during treatment.

Here are some tips on facilitating those interactions to open the lines of communication:

Make a date. Recreate your first date; this is especially lighthearted if it was awkward or quirky. Or you can go out and do something that you both did early on in your relationship. Maybe it was a homemade picnic lunch in a nearby park, or going to a drive in movie, or dinner at a specific restaurant across town where you ordered for each other. Try to rekindle the giddy feelings of your relationship and remind each other of the connection you share.

Leave love notes. Slip a note in his wallet that says something sweet. Write a message on the mirror in lipstick for him to see when he s getting ready for work in the morning. Write a letter about how he made you feel when you got married and what he did that made you feel special; be specific. Hide these in plain sight for him to find and bring a smile to his face throughout the day.

Compliment them. Tell him when he does something you like or appreciate, even if it is something small like a smile in your direction when you play with your hair. Be specific so he knows what it is you want him to do. Reinforcement helps encourage behaviors you want to continue.

Involve them. Include him in your day-to-day life and in your updates and expectations through treatment. With knowledge comes understanding. Share your run in with an old coworker at the coffee shop, the ridiculous demands of the new girl at work, and how your feeling about your treatment and progress.

For more help on communicating with your partner check out this article and video testimony from Livestrong.

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.

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