Me and My Husband: We’ve been through a lot together…
An article in the April 10 Journal of Clinical Oncology details results of a new study that shows partners of cancer survivors often suffer just as much emotional stress as the survivors themselves, "and, in some cases, suffer more quality of life-related effects than survivors."
The study focused on couples seven years out from treatment (and where the survivor had been given blood and marrow transplants). And while these parameters are fairly narrow, they do point to something I think we all know, but maybe don’t acknowledge fully: going through treatment, and then living with the specter of cancer recurrence, is a challenge for the survivor; but just as challenging, if not more, for her partner.
Let’s face it: when you go through breast cancer, it’s all about YOU. Sure, you worry–endlessly–about your kids, your mom, how your friends feel, whether you’ll be able to work. But the medical community focuses their attention on you and your recovery: your health, your emotions, your well-being. And, sad to say, your partner is often an afterthought. He or she is there for you (hopefully)–solid, steady, uncomplaining, supportive, all the attributes you need, just when you need them. But at what cost? At great cost, potentially.
The study noted that while both survivor and partner suffered similar levels of depression, the survivor was 24% more likely to receive treatment for it. Partners reported "less social support, spiritual well-being, marital satisfaction, and more loneliness than survivors." In addition, partners felt little positive personal change in their lives, as opposed to survivors. You know that feeling you have, once you’re done with treatment? "Wow, I’m so grateful cancer woke me up. I’m really going to start making some changes in my life!" Your partner didn’t feel it. So, he or she went through this whole miserable experience with you, and didn’t get nearly the support along the way, or "payback" at the end, that you did. How sad is that?
I’m not trying to instigate a guilt-fest here. And perhaps none of this resonates with you; maybe you were “there" for your partner, as he or she was for you, all the way through your treatment. But, for the majority of us, I’m guessing that isn’t/wasn’t true. We’re overwhelmed; we’re scared; we’re trying to hold it all together, for the aforementioned kids, parents, friends” We lean on our partners, and we lean hard; thank God they’re strong while we’re weak. But our illness is taking its toll on them, too. And it’s worth remembering, when you can, to check in. Yes, cancer treatment HAS to be "all about me." But even in times of great personal stress, it’s possible to reach out to someone-especially someone you love. Check in with your partner. Showing you care, and that you know he or she is suffering, too, is the least you can do for this most important person.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.