Michael Uhl, a mind-body therapist and marriage counselor who works with cancer patients in Zion, says living with cancer is one of the hardest things a person may face in his or her lifetime. Not only do cancer patients have to battle the disease and side effects from treatment, the disease can also test relationships. He says there is hope.
Uhl who works at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® at Midwestern Regional Medical Center believes that relationships can withstand the stress of cancer treatments, and may even make them stronger. “From what I have seen, when one partner in the relationship is diagnosed with cancer, the success rate of that couple staying together approaches 99 percent – if the couple is willing to work together,” said Uhl. “When you look at a crisis moment in a relationship or marriage, such as cancer, it can be compared to the heat in a welding torch. With the heat, you can either cut a piece of metal apart or bind two pieces together.”
Keep communication open, said Uhl. Communication may not always mean agreeing, but having a goal of being honest with one another is important.
To help couples bind, Uhl offers the following tips:
- Rely on developed skills: Most couples do not realize that they already have the tools to cope with cancer based on previous crises. Remembering how they overcame difficult situations in the past may help a couple develop coping strategies in the current situation.
- Allow room for a “time out”: Cancer can cause feelings of anger and depression. Allow your partner to feel their emotions and be comfortable with him / her taking a moment alone. The end goal is to fight the cancer, not one another.
- Remain intimate: Intimacy does not necessarily equal sex. In fact, cancer treatment side effects often make sex uncomfortable. Instead, intimacy means spending time together – holding hands, reading together, talking, etc.
- Find time to do the things you love: Take time to play and have fun together – fishing, going to a movie, playing a board game, or even watching a sports game on TV.
- Boost your support network: When a significant other is diagnosed with cancer, the caregiver is tasked with extra responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help, giving your partner a chance to take a break and process his or her emotions.
- Find other couples in a similar situation: These couples, often found in support groups, may understand what you are going through. Don’t be afraid to seek tips and advice from others, as well as share what you have found works in your own relationship while recognizing that each couple’s experience is unique.
- Keep each other accountable: Cancer causes stress, and stress compromises the immune system. Remind each other to participate in healthy activities to remain resilient – getting plenty of rest, eating nutritious meals and exercising.
- Don’t blame each other: Many people blame themselves or their loved ones for getting cancer, including being too stressed out, working too hard, or smoking. Realize there are many factors that contribute to cancer, not just one.
- Speak with a therapist: Speaking with a therapist, who is unbiased and has experience with other cancer patients, can help couples express their emotions, confirm that the feelings they are experiencing are normal, and help provide useful coping tools.
For more information about the care Uhl provides at CTCA, visit cancercenter.com.