Many women fighting breast cancer cite a strong support system as one of the most important pieces of their treatment and recovery. Having someone around to not only help with the logistics of appointments and managing day-to-day activities, but to also serve as an emotional support system while going through what is likely one of the scariest times of the patient's life, is extremely important. Unfortunately, not all husbands, wives, and significant others serve as this crucial support system when their loved one is recovering from chemotherapy or a mastectomy.
So what do you do when your first in command is leaving you on the battle field alone?
1. Have a direct conversation
Communication is always key. If you feel that your spouse or significant other isn't supporting you while you undergo treatment, you may need to have a clear, direct conversation. It's possible that your loved one is still processing your diagnosis themselves, or thinks they're supporting you, but not in the ways that you need. While this doesn't make it any easier for you to go through this alone, a conversation may reveal why there seems to be a disconnect in what you need and what you're receiving.
Communication experts suggest using "I" statements rather than "you" statements that can come across as an accusation. Instead of saying "you never support me or help out," you might say "I feel like I'm going through this alone, and I could really use some extra support while I'm going through this scary time." It's then important to tell your loved one exactly what it is that you would like them to do to support you.
"I" statements help open up communication to help reveal each stakeholder's feelings and beliefs. Sometimes a spouse might think they're being supportive, but their mentality doesn't line up with what you might need in the moment.
2. Seek professional help
If you find that your loved one doesn't respond well to your conversation, that you're unable make progress towards a solution, or that they don't seem to change behavior after the fact, it might be helpful to see a professional counselor. If it's in your budget/schedule, speaking with a couples therapist can help facilitate productive conversation and a safe place to discuss your concerns.
Depending on where you're located, your medical staff may also be able to suggest professional services or groups available to help you and your spouse be stronger together during your recovery.
3. Find out if your spouse is coping
It's true that this period is likely to be one of the hardest times you've faced in your life and that your full focus should be on taking care of yourself. It's important to remember, however, that your diagnosis also means a drastic change in the plans your spouse might have had in mind for the pair of you and your future together, as well as their personal day to-day-life.
Your #1 priority during this time should be on your own health and recovery, but if your spouse seems distant or unsupportive it might be worth checking in with them. See how they're coping, ask if they know what resources are available to them as a caregiver, and suggest they speak with your medical staff if they need additional guidance.
4. Rely more on friends and family
If push comes to shove and there's nothing you can seem to do to gain your spouse's support, it may be time to rely more heavily on friends and family. It's likely that these people will already be present to try to help you in any way they can, so don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it!
Many times, loved ones want to be there to support you during this hard time, but don't know exactly what you need. Speak up!
5. Join a support group
If you still find yourself feeling like your going it alone, there are a number of support groups available all over the country for individuals going through cancer treatment. There are services that help with everything from rides to and from treatment, to emotional support, to housing options for patients who have to go farther away from home to receive specialized care. The American Cancer Society has a great list you can use to find local support programs in your area. Your medical staff should also be able to make trustworthy recommendations for ways you can find extra support during your recovery.
While your diagnosis impacts no one quite as heavily as it impacts you, it's important to remember that a cancer diagnosis touches all of the loved ones in your life in some way. Open communication and not being afraid to ask for help when and where you need it will be so important during this time. Don't hesitate to take advantages of all of the people in your life standing by to help, and all of the resources available to the supportive community you're now a part of.