How Cancer Impacts Marriages

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When diagnosed with cancer undergoing treatment it not only affects your health but your personal relationships as well.  If you are married, a cancer diagnosis will certainly  impact your marriage but it  may do so in a variety of ways.  With cancer treatment there is illness, pain, bodily changes, nausea, surgery, fatigue and more.  All of these things will impact even the strongest or longest of marriages.

During treatment, due to various symptoms, important roles may change which will shake up the family dynamic .  For some, taking on these roles is a privilege and for others it can be a source of resentment.  For many, it can be both.  What is often difficult for the family of a loved one undergoing cancer treatment is recognizing that both emotions are valid and that feelings of resentment or frustration do not negate the love you have for your spouse.   The spouse of a cancer patient is dealing with immense fear coupled with taking on the task of being a constant source of support, and often while cleaning, cooking, providing financial support, functioning as chauffer and much more.  It is a big task for anyone.  Even when a cancer patient is able to maintain a relatively normal level of function during treatment, there are other ways a marriage will be impacted.  Bodily changes such as hair loss, weight gain or loss, or surgeries (such as mastectomies) may lead to a loss in body confidence or sexual confidence and this can impact marital intimacy.

There are a few ways to lessen the impact cancer has on a marriage.  First, delegate as much as possible to friends and family that are willing to help.  Allow your sister to deliver groceries, allow your mother-in-law to clean the house, allow your best friend to pick up your kids from school.  By doing these things, you reduce the shift in roles and responsibilities so that some of the marital dynamic can stay in place.  Be proactive and prepared for a change in marital dynamic.  Anticipate changes and plan ahead for date nights as health and schedule allows, even if it is just getting the kids to bed and having a special dinner and a movie in yoru own home.  By facilitating romance you help remain as normal as possible and remind yourselves that you are more than cancer.  Additionally, consider seeking counseling before problems arise.  Even in a strong marriage, dealing with the various challenges of cancer may be made easier, more clear, or simply more manageable by seeking the advice of a trusted counselor.  One of the most important things you can do is keep communication lines open so that everyone is on the same page and nobody is concealing feelings of sadness, frustration, resentment, fear or more and allowing it to build to a breaking point.  The Harvard Gazette points out that ultimately, marriage can significantly improve a cancer patient’s outcome – positive news for those who are in relationships and undergoing treatment, ” Utilizing the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, the researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of 734,889 people who were diagnosed with cancer between 2004 and 2008. They focused on the 10 leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States: lung, colorectal, breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver/bile duct, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, head and neck, ovarian, and esophageal cancer. They also adjusted the data to account for a number of demographic factors, including age, sex, race, residence type, education, and median household income, which could have an effect on the health outcome. Their analysis found that in comparison with married patients, unmarried cancer patients, including those who were widowed, were 17 percent more likely to have metastatic cancer (cancer that spread beyond its original site) and were 53 percent less likely to receive the appropriate therapy.”  The study’s senior author goes on to say that this is good news not only for marriages but for those that receive support from any loved one or family members – it truly does make an impact on patient’s outcome.

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