I’m going to die.
I’m going to be impotent.
My wife (partner) is going to leave me.
I’m going to be incontinent.
I’m going to be in pain.
But this really ignored the other side of the equation—what if your wife or partner is the one with the fears? This came to mind this week because I’ve been reading some of the messages sent to this site from people whose spouses or friends have cancer of the prostate, and it occurred to me that we all too often concentrate on people with illnesses, and seldom on those who surround them—the support staff, the caregivers.
When I had my first bout of cancer—lymphoma—my wife told me that it felt as if she had been struck in her heart (and here, she gestured to her heart and struck it with her hand), and that each time I feared a recurrence, the same thing happened. She, and my two grown daughters, called me at work often—especially during the time I was undergoing radiation—just to say hello. But I knew what that was about; they were making sure I was okay. My fear of dying was no greater than theirs, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I’m not suggesting that men with cancer can suddenly become reverse caregivers, that they can forget their own danger and fears and turn to partners with special concern. But I am suggesting that none of us should forget that the partners of those of us who have cancer are never far from despair themselves.
And I would like to suggest that everyone in a family (no matter how small or large, or of what composition) keep in mind the worries of those they care about, whether they are patients or caregivers.
Psychological counseling is only one way of attending to these worries. Massages, a night out on the town, a weekend to a spa, a trip to the mall—all of this can help. So can a loving word, a kiss, or just the mental consciousness that says, “I’m not the only one suffering possible loss, here.”