Spouses should support, not direct, cancer care

I frequently hear cancer patients say that a spouse or partner is adding stress to their lives by constantly expressing their own opinions as to what is best for the patient.

Here are some examples:

  • “You have to go to New York City for all of your cancer treatments. You can’t get good care anywhere else.”
  • “Chemotherapy is poison that makes money for the medical-industrial complex. You need to pursue natural treatment instead.”
  • “You have to do everything possible to fight your cancer. Even if it extends your life for only one day, it’s worth doing.”

If it’s your own cancer, you should feel free to make whatever decisions you want. If it’s your spouse’s cancer, you should pretty much keep your thoughts to yourself.

There are exceptions to this. Sometimes the patient wants (or needs) the spouse to make decisions and offer opinions on a regular basis. That’s fine – as long as it’s at the request of the patient.

But, in general, once you state that opinion, drop it. Restating that opinion day after day is, at best, annoying, and, at worst, truly destructive.

One woman with cancer told me that she wanted to spend her energy understanding her options and making the best possible treatment decisions. Instead, she was spending her energy navigating the relationship with her husband because he had very strong opinions about what she should do and he expressed those opinions constantly.

Most spouses truly want to help. They’re trying to guide the patient to what the spouse truly believes is best.

But what’s best for one person is not best for the next person. The individual with cancer gets to decide.

A wonderful spouse is one who supports the patient’s decisions without judgement and without conflict.

My advice for a spouse: Be present. And be quiet.

 


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original publication date: April 30, 2016.

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