If you are the spouse or life partner of someone who has just been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, now is the time to be the best companion you can be. Your spouse needs you now probably more than ever.

Even if yours is not a long-term relationship—perhaps you just met, or you are the patient’s closest or only friend—you now have an opportunity to do something truly meaningful, something that will make a real difference in another human being’s life. Consider this opportunity a gift not to be missed.

A note on the wording: to avoid long lists of possible relationships, I’ll be using “partner” or “spouse” to mean you, the caregiver, whatever your special relationship may be. I’ll also use he, she, her or him, randomly and interchangeably to avoid the clumsy “s/he” or “him/her.”

You may have heard that colorectal cancer requires a big operation, leaves you disfigured by a plastic stool-collection bag, or sends you to chemotherapy, which makes your hair fall out. And then it kills you.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Like many cancers, colorectal cancer that is diagnosed early is very treatable. And unlike most cancers, it is even preventable.

Begin by reviewing the appropriate chapters of this book with your partner. Understanding the disease will help you regain a feeling of control over your lives.

“I have cancer” may be the most painful words you’ll ever hear from someone you love. Words that cause shock, disbelief, and confusion, and make you wonder, “Is my loved one going to die?”

Being responsible for providing both emotional and physical support is challenging. You’re probably in as much pain and turmoil as your partner, but your burden may be heavier: you have to provide the support needed, as well as to deal with your own feelings.

You may feel overcome by the feeling that somehow you must make it all better, and be frustrated when you find out you can’t. There is no easy answer, and no shortcut. You are facing a serious problem, and it is normal to feel scared, confused, and weak. Acknowledge these feelings. You can be strong and supportive without holding everything
inside. In fact, sharing your feelings honestly is the best thing you can do to strengthen the relationship.

If you find it too hard to express these feelings to your partner, you can find a support person for yourself. A friend, another family member, a religious leader, a counselor, or a support group for caregivers can help you verbalize what you are feeling, sort it all out, and work on a plan of action.

The first weeks after the diagnosis may feel like an emotional roller coaster. The swings of feelings are painful and exhausting, but they are normal. With time the emotional tidal waves fade to be mere ripples in a pool, and you find that you can deal with them.

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