Saturday, October 29, 2016

To Talk or Not to Talk?


Illness is such a thief.  It can take away so much of what we consider vital.  It can take away the peace that comes from taking the ordinary for granted.  It can steal intimacy.

Illness depletes, but it also deposits.  It inserts all kinds of emotions, at levels of intensity that can be blinding.  Illness awakens fear of tragic loss,  rage at incremental loss, loneliness, out of controlness, and perhaps worst of all, hopelessness.

For some, perhaps many partners, illness can also act like a laser slicing through the noise and the irrelevances of daily life and can illuminate the essential.  There is nothing quite like illness to help you to sort through the chaff and the wheat and to decide what really matters.  Hopefully that's love and compassion.

Talking to each other, and to others, is the lifeline.  It helps us thread the morass and stay tied to something real that can be a source of connection, even comfort.  Saying aloud to your partner, to your friend, what you hate, what you still love, what you want, what is still possible, where you keep your hope, how you struggle with you hopelessness -- can be sustenance.

We fear that if we speak our inner truths aloud to our partner (be they well or ill) that it would only add to the already intolerable burden.  That it would cause harm.  This fear comes from the connection that still exists, from the desire to serve and to help.  The irony is that in not talking about what is growing larger inside, you become more distant and wind up focusing on superficialities at a time when you need each other the most.

This is not a call to blurt it all out, with all the cutting edges sharpened.

Find your compassion for your partner and for yourself.  Find a moment when there is time and quiet.  Listen and ask as much as you speak.  Let your love seep in wherever possible.

One of Richard's and my mantras is that what doesn't get spoken doesn't go away.  It just goes underground and gets acted out instead of understood.

Have you and your partner found ways to have the difficult, reconnecting conversations?  What have you tried?  What's been the impact?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Love Through Cancer


I've read articles about couples who commit or marry, and soon afterwards one partner receives a cancer diagnosis.  And other couples who commit or marry knowing that one has cancer.  Some of them tell stories of reaching levels of accelerated intimacy and authenticity that they believe wouldn't have been possible had it not been for the illness.  Others get lost in the maelstrom of hospitals and intervention, and they live their life at the crossroads of chemo and uncertainty.

I now know two people who are at the beginning of their love and cancer story.  They were both married before, and both lost their spouses to illness.  They know the caregiver role well.  Now he knows the patient role.

They met about a year ago, and their rhythms were a great match.  They are both smart, funny, and welcoming.  She's animated and active; he's more pensive and accommodating.  He wraps her in his larger bear of a body, and she curls, catlike, in his arms.  They suit each other.  And they have come to love each other.

Several months ago he was diagnosed with cancer.  In fact with two different cancers.  Sounds bad, but the doctors are hopeful surgery can eliminate both -- once the tumors are shrunk though chemo and radiation to a surgical size.

They recently decided to get married.  I haven't asked them why.  I imagine it has to do with love, and giving, and caregiving, and a vision of hope.  I applaud them for doing the normal thing in a situation of such............

Readers of this blog have deep experience with illness and its demands, and the hard, and often special paths it takes us down.  What thoughts or guidance would you offer this couple?

Friday, August 5, 2016

When Illness Changes Intimacy


I wrote a post about this topic a while ago, and readers are still offering comments.  I think this is the case because illness and sex is a common but often closeted aspect of living with a serious health condition.  When illness becomes the third partner in the relationship, it infiltrates into the living room, the check book, the social calendar, and the bedroom.  If the couple is older, or younger, the intimacy-illness equation gets even more complicated.

I am linking to the original post.  But more important than the post itself are the comments.  I thank all those who shared their situations and heartaches, and solutions.  I hope other readers find community and some comfort in knowing that we are not alone.  Here goes:

"What do you do when your partner is no longer interested in or capable of sexual intimacy with you?

Illness takes many tolls, on both partners.  One of them is too often sexual intimacy.  Medications, pain, and exhaustion can not only turn a libido off, but can make intercourse painful for the ill partner.  The well partner may be just too drained after a long day of caregiving, working, caring for kids, and running the household to want anything more intimate than falling asleep side-by-side.  And the shift illness produces in some partner relationships -- turning a bond of equals into one of caregiver and patient -- can make sex feel like a taboo."

http://insicknessinhealth.blogspot.com/2011/07/whatdo-you-do-when-illness-makes-sex.html

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Couples Survive Cancer More than Singles

I thought this article was worth posting in its entirety (please forgive formatting issues).



Why being married could stop you dying of cancer: Sufferers have 'something to live for' if they have a spouse 

  • Analysis of 60,000 patients showed singletons were more likely to die
  • Patients' other halves are more likely to 'hassle' them to see a doctor
  • For one blood cancer the unmarried had a 43 per cent higher death rate
Being married increases your chances of beating cancer, experts have revealed.
An analysis of 60,000 patients over ten years found single or unmarried patients with the disease were a fifth more likely to die.
Researchers say having a spouse or family gives sufferers ‘something to live for’ and makes them far more determined to beat the illness.
Patients’ other halves – particularly wives – are more likely to ‘hassle’ them to see a doctor about any worrying symptoms or remind them to go to chemotherapy appointments.
Being married increases the risk of beating cancer. Researchers said having a spouse or family gives sufferers ‘something to live for’ and makes them far more determined to beat the illness
Researchers from the University of California in San Diego presented their findings at the American Society for Clinical Oncology conference this week. They looked at the records of 60,000 men and women with leukaemia and other types of blood cancer between 2000 and 2009.
On average, patients who were not married were 21 per cent more likely to die than their married counterparts.
But among those with follicular lymphoma – a rare blood cancer – the unmarried had a 43 per cent higher chance of dying. And the figure was 37 per cent for Hodgkin lymphoma sufferers.
‘If you are single you don’t have someone at home nagging at you to get checked out.
‘This is particularly true with men. Women tend to have more support even if they are single.’
He added: ‘Married people and people with families are more likely to stick to treatment. They have a support system making them go to chemo, reminding them to take their medication.
‘They are also more motivated to seek out healthcare. To put it bluntly, they have something to live for. These results show that health services need to take more care of single patients – they need to be the surrogate for a spouse.

MARRIED PEOPLE ARE ALSO MORE LIKELY TO SURVIVE A HEART ATTACK 

Married people are more likely to survive a heart attack, according to British research.
Having a spouse to care for them ‘in sickness and in health’ improves patients’ survival chances by 14 per cent, experts found.
They were also, on average, likely to spend two fewer days in hospital after an attack.
Scientists studied more than 25,000 people with a heart attack diagnosis over a 13-year period, drawn from a database of more than one million hospital patients.
Married people are more likely to survive a heart attack, a study has found. Having a spouse to care for them ‘in sickness and in health’ improves patients’ survival chances by 14 per cent
The researchers, from Aston Medical School and the University of East Anglia, suggested marital partners may offer the kind of physical and emotional support that bolsters patients’ determination to live. Presenting results at the British Cardiovascular Society conference in Manchester yesterday, the UEA’s Dr Nicholas Gollop said: ‘Our results should not be a cause for concern for single people who have had a heart attack.
‘But they should certainly be a reminder to the medical community of the importance of considering the support a heart attack survivor will get once they are discharged.’
There could be financial implications for the NHS as the average cost per day for patients on a surgical ward is £400. Reducing length of stays could save £10 million.
A recent British Heart Foundation study found one in three heart attack survivors has suffered anxiety or depression. Dr Mike Knapton, BHF associate medical director, said: ‘A heart attack can have both devastating physical and psychological effects … These findings suggest the support offered by a spouse can have a beneficial effect on heart attack survivors, perhaps helping to minimise the impact of a heart attack.
‘But when you have your heart attack, whether you’re married or not, it’s important to remember that you are not alone … a cardiac rehabilitation course, for example, will help you to recover physically, psychologically, and also help you to meet people who know what you’ve been through.’
About 188,000 people a year are admitted to UK hospitals as a result of a heart attack. 
‘Single people often don’t look after themselves.’
The university’s Professor Maria Elena Martinez, who was also involved in the study, said: ‘Being single should be a red flag for doctors. If a cancer patient comes in without a family member or spouse it should be a warning sign.
‘Medical staff need to ask the patient about the support at home. Doctors need to go that little bit extra with single patients.’

Patients’ other halves – particularly wives – are more likely to ‘hassle’ them to see a doctor, researchers said
Previous research has shown that married couples are more likely to survive heart attacks, overcome high-risk surgery and also tend to live longer.
Adrienne Betteley, interim head of health and social care at the charity Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘We know that a cancer diagnosis can leave people feeling very lonely and that this can have a detrimental effect on their lives, with many forced to skip meals or attend vital appointments alone. At worst it can result in patients refusing treatment altogether.’
Cancer Research UK’s senior clinical adviser, Professor Arnie Purushotham, said it is ‘unclear why married people in this study seem to have better outcomes’.
But he added: ‘It may be that cancer patients who have close support of partners do better and this may be due to sticking with their treatment better and a network of social support. Developing such a network of support may benefit all cancer patients.’ 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Marriage May Help Partners Survive Cancer


From an article in the Chicago Tribune:

"Married people seem to have a marked survival advantage, the researchers found: Single men with cancer had a death rate 27 percent higher than it was for married male patients, while the death rate for single female patients was 19 percent higher than their married counterparts.......What's more, this advantage appears to rely solely on the emotional bonds of matrimony and not the financial advantages that marriage offers......"

The article highlights the practical help well partners offer -- driving, shopping, reminders to take medication -- in addition to the emotional support that comes from having a loving, listening presence.

But the article, and the research it's based on, don't go far enough.  It's not just that the presence of a loving partner can help with the fight against cancer. It's that the challenges cancer (and other illnesses) brings into the relationship can serve as a catalyst to finding more truthful communication and a deepened connection.  Many of the couples we interviewed for our book said that they reached levels of intimacy that would not have been possible had it not been for the presence of illness.

The relationship has the potential to heal - emotionally, spiritually, and now there's research that shows that a physical healing can happen too.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

What Happens to the Caregiver When the Ill Partner Needs Surgery?


A dear friend had an episode of dizziness and a touch of confusion the other day.  He is now scheduled for open heart surgery.  You never know when a wound that's slow to heal or a bruise that just grows worse or a cough that lasts for months will wind up being a diagnosis you really don't want to hear.  The point is not to live in fear; but to really live.

My friend has been getting MRIs and ultra sounds, talking with a multitude of specialists, touring cardiac ICUs of local hospitals.  Every clinician he meets is friendly and reassuring.  All his questions get answered.  He is being well looked after.

His wife, however, is relatively invisible to these excellent professionals.  She is an appendage, a steady hand to hold his frightened one.  Not one of these very excellent clinicians asked her if she had any questions, much less how she is doing.  And much less, how they are doing coping with this crisis together.

The partner in these situations is too often, sadly, a sidebar.  But a side bar of whom much is expected.  The partner is expected to be fully present during the hospitalization and fully responsible for the heavy load of caregiving that will be needed when the patient is back home.  And the caregiver must give care whether or not she/he is exhausted from sitting for days at the hospital bedside, missing sleep, and eating badly.  And she/he must take on the heavy care load at home that often involves helping the patient move, dress, shower, get to doctors' appointments, in addition to grocery shopping, laundry, child care, and going to work.  And all this is on top of the caregiver's emotional exhaustion that comes from fearing the worst, watching her sweetie in pain, and feeling illegitimate for having her/his own needs and frustrations.

How much more bearable this load would be if health care professionals understood that their patient's outcome will be strengthened or weakened depending on the resilience of the caregiver and of the relationship between the patient and caregiver.  If the caregiver sinks, the patient will sink even lower.  If the caregiver feels recognized and appreciated by providers, she/he will transfer that support back into the caregiving relationship.

Of course, not all providers neglect the caregiver.  And not all caregivers can, or want to, serve as caregivers.  I would like to hear about your experiences as the caregiver at a time when your partner needed hospitalization.  Did you feel recognized, or invisible?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Advice for Couples Living with Cancer


From an article by a therapist at CTCA -- advice for couples living with cancer.  He hits many nails right on the head:

1. Keep communication open: Communication may not always mean agreeing, but having a goal of being honest with one another is important. 
2. 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. 
3. 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.
4. 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. 
5. 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. 
6. 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. 
7. 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.
8. 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. 
9. 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.
10. 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.