WHAT YOUR PARTNER NEEDS FROM YOU
Emotional support is perhaps the single most important factor you can contribute. Knowing that you will be there, no matter what, will help your spouse deal with the diagnosis, and tolerate the treatments.
If you find verbal communication to be difficult, and choose to hide in your job or in an outside activity, your spouse may perceive this behavior as a withdrawal of your love. Her well-being depends on your willingness to communicate openly. You don’t need to make long speeches. Holding hands, sitting close, putting an arm around her, will communicate how much she means to you in ways words can’t express.
Most people, especially men, are upset by tearful outbursts. But remember that tears are a healthy response. Both of you know that there is no easy fix, and to pretend otherwise only delays the grieving that must take place before healing begins.
Anger is also a normal response that needs an outlet. The patient may lash out at the closest person during such times. Despite what he says, he is not angry at you, but at his loss of control over his life. This stage will pass faster if you help direct that anger into action against the cancer.
Some patients withdraw and refuse to share their feelings, rejecting your efforts at being close. This may be the most difficult reaction to deal with, and may require outside help to reestablish open communications.
There is scientific evidence that a positive mind-set can lead to an improved outcome. A supportive and upbeat attitude on your part will be contagious and is one of the best ways to help him through the weeks or months of treatment.
Colorectal cancer can adversely affect sexual desire and sexual function. Your spouse may need time to adjust to the effects of treatment, including possible impotency as a result of pelvic surgery. You may need time to shift your concerns away from caregiver duties and to intimate realtions. There are small things you can do to rekindle the interest. Make a date, offer a foot rub, take a shower together, watch an erotic movie. Try new positions that may be more comfortable. And remember, making love need not necessarily include intercourse.
A few simple techniques that will improve communications
• Make opening statements that let your partner know you’re willing to listen. Comments like, “How do you feel about…,” let her know it’s okay to open up on an emotional level.
• Reassure her that she has been truly understood by repeating what you heard in your own words.
• Use nonverbal (body language) techniques to convey how you feel about her. Hand holding, and looking at her when she speaks, tell her that your love and concern are real.
• Avoid judgmental comments like, “You shouldn’t…,” or, “Don’t say that.” Such statements block true communication by minimizing or invalidating the other person’s feelings.
• Be careful with comments like, “Don’t worry,” or, “Nothing will happen.” Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean being unrealistic.
Help with Daily Activities
Surgery, chemotherapy, and emotional stress may lead to physical exhaustion, and your spouse may look like she needs your help even with the simplest daily activities. The difficult part may be determining how much help she really wants. Too much help may be as inappropriate as too little. The simple solution: just ask!
In the early stages of treatment the patient is often overcome with an excess of well-wishing friends and relatives. Your job as the spouse may be to act as the gate keeper, and delegate specific tasks to various people so everyone feels involved.
You also may be required to deal with financial or insurance issues. Be meticulous. A minor mistake in bookkeeping on your part may have serious financial consequences. Here are some things you can do to make that unpleasant task easier:
• Contact your insurance company to find out their policies on hospital admissions, second opinions, filing of claims and billing, etc.
• Keep a written record of your contacts with insurance company representatives, including names, dates, and times.
• Get to know your insurance case manager. This person will help steer you through the maze of rules, regulations and requirements.
• Write down appointment dates and doctors’ names. Get a copy of all billing forms, including ones for procedures, medications, and supplies used.
• Keep copies of all bills, charges, and related forms together in one place for easy retrieval later.
• Submit claims and reports in a timely manner.
• Use certified/return-receipt-requested mail for the most important documents.
• Don’t forget to keep up insurance premiums. You’ll be glad you remembered this critical step later.
• Many states have a board of appeals who can help you resolve disputes. (Some contacts are listed in the Resources chapter).