With Your Partner
In a misguided attempt to protect your loved one, you may try to hide
your emotions from him. Don't. It is far better to involve your partner
as soon as possible, so the two of you can find strength in each other,
and learn from the beginning how you can work as a team in the weeks
and months to come.
Couples may have difficulty adjusting to the role
changes that are sometimes necessary. A partner who was responsible
for only part of the daily activities may now become the sole breadwinner
and homemaker, preparing dinner, changing the bedding and dressings,
and providing companionship and emotional support. The sheer weight
of these responsibilities can be overwhelming.
A partner's concerns or fears also can affect your
sexual relationship. Some may worry that physical intimacy will harm
the person who has cancer. Others may fear that they might "catch"
the cancer or be affected by the drugs. Many of these issues can be
cleared up by open communication.
Both you and your partner should feel free to discuss
sexual concerns with each other, as well as with your doctor, nurse,
or other counselor who can give you the information and the reassurance
Try to remember that your husband, boyfriend or partner
probably will be affected by your diagnosis as much as you. In some
ways his challenge may be particularly difficult because he will have
to manage his own emotions, and at the same time shoulder the task
of being your key supporter.
You can help by communicating your needs clearly.
"I would love it if you..." will be far better for both
of you than some unstated wish left unfulfilled.
This is one of the more challenging tasks you and your partner will
have to handle. Your first impulse may be to attempt to shield your
children from pain by downplaying or withholding information. Don't
underestimate their insight. Children's ability to pick up signals
is greater than most people realize, and trying to keep a complex
situation such as cancer a secret, is practically impossible. More
than likely, they will sense that all is not well, and wander away
imagining horrors far worse than reality. The next day they will get
a dose of misinformation from their classmates, which will only fuel
A much better approach is a simple and straightforward
explanation, geared to each child's age and ability to understand.
Conveying the impression that you are comfortable with the situation,
and that you trust them, will help them deal with the situation.
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Cancer is a blow to every family it touches. How you respond to the
blow depends on how you have functioned as a family in the past. Families
who are used to sharing their feelings with each other usually are
able to talk about the disease and the changes it brings. Families
in which each member solves problems alone or in which one person
has played the major role in making decisions, might have more difficulty
Children, especially, may have difficulty coping with
cancer in a parent. Some fear the loss of the parent or begin to imagine
their own death. This can play havoc with all aspects of their lives—from
school performance, to sleep patterns, to social contacts.
In addition to this upheaval, children often are asked
to "play quietly", to perform extra tasks, or to be considerate
of others' moods. Some of these demands may far exceed their maturity
Younger children may resent lost attention. Teenagers
can feel torn between expressing independence and a need to remain
close to the sick parent. Discipline problems can arise.
Parents may not have the emotional energy to provide
the usual support, love, and authority. It may help if a favorite
relative or family friend can devote extra time and attention to the
children to help maintain normal family routines as much as possible.
Events like trips to the zoo are important, but so is helping with
homework, or attending the basketball awards banquet.
In more difficult situations, individual or family
counseling can help with the stress. Your physician, a hospital social
worker, or hospital psychologist are good sources for referrals to
psychologists, psychiatrists, or other mental health professionals
trained to counsel individuals and families affected by cancer.
Remember, breast cancer does not need to be a totally
negative experience. Instead, it can serve as a tool that will help
your family grow stronger and be more united.
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The people who are close to you also will be affected by your news.
They too may need to be angry, cry, and express their emotions. It's
a natural part of adjusting to your diagnosis. It will help both you
and them to talk openly about each other's feelings. Open communication
from the start will go a long way toward strengthening the bonds with
your loved ones, and securing the support you'll need.
Sometimes the "extended family" can be just
too "extended" or too expressive. Their combined concerns
can be overwhelming, and may have a negative effect on you. Feel free
to limit the lines of communication with relatives who drain, rather
than replenish, your energy. Remember, you are the one in charge,
and this is the time when you need unwavering support.
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Friends can be an excellent source of help and support, particularly
if you keep them informed, and help them help you. Some friends will
deal well with your illness and will provide gratifying support. Some
will be unable to cope with the possibility of your death, and will
disappear from your life. Most will want to help, but may be unsure
of how to go about it, and will be waiting for clues from you about
where to begin.
You may have to be the one who takes the initiative
in reestablishing contact. Telephone those who don't call you. Make
specific requests for simple things—to run an errand, prepare
a meal, come for a visit. No one who is healthy can imagine how much
they will be appreciated if they do nothing but pick up a few things
off the floor for a woman who may not be able to bend down for a few
days after surgery. These small acts bring friends back into contact
and help them feel useful and needed.
When it comes to conversational topics, bear in mind
that people who don't have experience dealing with cancer may have
no idea what is acceptable. "Isn't it too personal to ask about
her breast reconstruction?" or "Should I pretend nothing
happened?" or "How do I discuss her fears with her, without
making things worse?" Help them by being the first to bring up
whatever subject you want to discuss.
Beyond the immediate circle of people who are close
to you, or who have something positive to offer, telling others about
your diagnosis should be on a "need to know" basis. No one
is entitled to have information you don't want to give out. Women
have gone through entire breast cancer treatments, including surgery,
while their co-workers remained unaware of what was going on.
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When you return to work, you may encounter discrimination on the grounds
that people who have cancer take too many sick days, are poor insurance
risks, or will make co-workers uncomfortable.
How can you deal with these issues? Sometimes all
it takes is a little education by you. Reassure those concerned that
if you do need time off, you will probably be able to schedule it
in advance. Once your treatment is over, you will be able to resume
your work as before, and are not likely to have unexpected sick days
any more frequently than your co-workers. Explain to everyone that
cancer is absolutely not contagious.
Under Federal law, most employers cannot discriminate
against disabled workers, including people with cancer. These laws
apply to Federal employers, employers that receive Federal funds,
and private companies with 25 or more employees. State laws also forbid
discrimination based on handicap, but only some protect people with
If you are applying for a job with a government agency
or a firm with government contracts, and believe you did not get the
job because of your cancer, you can file a complaint with the Department
If you believe you were discriminated against by a
private employer because of your cancer, you should file your complaint
with the closest regional office of the Equal Employment Opportunities
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