The combination of emotional stress, your regular work, and added
activities around the home can take a toll on you. You can't afford
to exhaust yourself physically or emotionally. No matter how well
you think you are handling the situation, you will benefit both you
and the woman you love by finding a support person for yourself. A
friend, another family member, a religious leader, or a professional
counselor who can help you verbalize any feelings and thoughts that
you don't want to share with your partner at this particular time.
This support person will help you sort it all out,
and work on a plan of action. Talking to other partners of women with
breast cancer and participating in support groups can also give you
concrete ideas on how to cope. Seeking this form of support for you
is not a sign of weakness, but of your wisdom.
with the Workload
As the primary support person, you will have a major role in keeping
up with your family's daily activities during a difficult time. There
will be times when you may feel overwhelmed by the entire burden.
Before that occurs, sit down with your partner and make plans:
• Make a list of tasks that need to be done
on a daily basis (food preparation, child care). Try to concentrate
on activities that really are essential, and put off the unnecessary
• As people contact you and ask "How can
I help?" give them specific tasks that will be truly helpful
for you and your partner.
• If you have the financial means, you may want
to hire help. Even having someone a few hours a week can ease the
• If you have children, get them more involved
in the daily activities. Even young children can be given simple
tasks to do around the house, like picking up their toys or setting
the dinner table. Actively participating in daily activities gives
them a way to cope with their own fears.
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My Personal Experience as the Partner of a Woman with
Seventeen years ago, at the age of 43, my wife went
for what we thought would be a routine mammogram of a lump I found
in her breast five days earlier. Just as I was starting to realize
that she had been gone too long, the radiologist called. "Dr.
Lange, we are looking at your wife's mammograms. It looks like she
has a malignancy." Just like that. The message was particularly
devastating because there wasn't that moment of confusion, that buffer
of uncertainty to soften the blow of what I had just heard.
I knew what "malignant" meant. Cancer, mastectomy,
chemotherapy, death. I stopped thinking, got in my car, and went down
to the radiology facility to pick up my wife.
The most important contribution (sometimes I think
it was the only contribution) I made to my wife's recovery, was the
attitude I took toward her illness. The thought of being left alone
to raise two young children, without the woman I loved, was too frightening
a prospect. So I simply decided she was not going to die, and that
was that. It was not an option. It was not acceptable. It was my will
against the disease, and I was determined to win the battle. In retrospect,
we both feel that somehow that mind-set, however irrational, made
the difference in her being a survivor.
Another, perhaps equally significant form of support
was my wholehearted, unequivocal, and immediate assurance to her that
I absolutely did not care what form of surgery she may need, and would
love her and find her attractive no matter how she looked. Even today,
so many years later, she says that it was this attitude that helped
her retain her self-image.
In terms of logistical support, "relative wrangling"
was definitely a challenge. Both of us come from European families,
with their characteristic exaggerated (often grossly exaggerated)
response to a diagnosis of cancer. "Oh, my God, how terrible,
the poor thing... (read: she is going to die). What are you going
to do?" To avoid the negative feelings such outbursts would generate,
I decided to paint a much rosier picture of her prognosis, and insisted
that no one treat her as a sick person.
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