When the Diagnosis is Metastatic Breast Cancer
by Hoda Badr, PhD
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have probably gone through treatment hoping for remission or recovery. However, if your healthcare team tells you that your cancer has metastasized, you and your partner may be facing new choices regarding your care and your future together. This can be a time of frustration, fear, poor communication, and physical discomfort. But this also can be a time of growth, meaning, and healing. By coming to understand each other’s perspective, you and your partner can begin to work as a team to navigate this experience together.
Have those difficult conversations.
Talking about serious issues is never easy, and making decisions about care can be difficult, even for the strongest couples. There is no right or wrong way to communicate. However, research has shown that those who talk openly about cancer-related concerns feel better and are happier with the decisions they make.
Choose anything you both like to do, and enjoy each other’s company.
It can be difficult to approach these sensitive topics, so practice what you want to say to your partner. Then, find a quiet time to talk without distraction. Be clear about what you want to get out of the conversation, and speak from your heart. Talk about how you feel, but avoid blaming or criticizing your partner. Important topics to discuss include:
- How you can help each other cope with changes and with the unknown
- How you can prepare for the future
- Your partner’s feelings about being caregiver
- Your feelings about being cared for
- Changes in your relationship
- Your wishes and concerns regarding your care and your future together
You may find that you are both on the same page, or that you each have very different thoughts on these topics. This makes it all the more important for the two of you to get things out in the open.
For the Partners
Often the best way to communicate is to just listen. Remember that your partner has the right to choose how to live her life. Although you may have strong opinions about what she should do, ultimately, the decision is hers to make. Also, keep in mind that your partner may avoid talking about her wishes and concerns for fear of upsetting you. Let her know that although you may not have all the answers, you are there to listen. If she does want to talk, you’ll want to choose your words carefully.
Say this: Tell me what you’re
Not this: Don’t worry; everything will be okay.
Say this: It must be hard to come to terms with all this. What do you need from me right now?
Not this: You have to be positive.
Say this: Can we talk about this later tonight once I’ve had a chance to take
it all in?
Not this: I don’t want to hear that.
Say this: I love you and will support you through this.
Not this: You can’t give up.
Spend time together.
Many couples find that making plans to spend time together helps to strengthen their relationships. Nothing elaborate is required. Watch a favorite movie, go out to dinner, or reminisce over family photos. Choose anything you both like to do. All that matters is that you make time to enjoy each other’s company.
Don’t forget about intimacy.
Despite physical changes you may be experiencing, you and your partner can continue to be intimate. Try new touch. Cancer can change your body; areas that used to feel good when touched may now feel numb or painful. Rather than give up on intimacy, work together to figure out what touch feels good. Maintain your loving feelings by kissing, hugging, and caressing. Physical touch can be therapeutic and can let your partner know that he or she is dear to you and that you are in this together.
Remember that intimacy isn’t just about the physical – it’s about cultivating loving feelings and staying connected. Take time to reconnect. Go for a walk, give each other a massage, or play special music that you both enjoy. Protect your time together, and eliminate distractions like cell phones and the TV.
Approaching cancer as “our problem” and finding opportunities to connect as a couple can help cultivate a strong emotional bond that will support you through this difficult time and allow you both to find growth, meaning, and healing.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Dr. Hoda Badr is an assistant professor in the department of Oncological Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, NY.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2013.