I am a wife whose husband has cancer. I am a caregiver. I also work with people who have cancer and other life-limiting illnesses, and with their caregivers. I work with the grief that comes with caregiving and death that may follow.

Every day, do you look for changes in your loved one? Are they pale? Are they thinner? Are they anxious or depressed? I do. I look for a sparkle in my husband’s eyes. I wonder if he is okay. I wonder if the chemo is working.

Six years ago, my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma, which had metastasized. He had a tumor underneath his shoulder that was large and too close to his spinal cord. It was inoperable.

He was given an immune boosting chemotherapy that had a 5% chance to cure. He has been in remission for 6 years. We are grateful.

You may have experienced this journey before, or are on this path right now. I am sure your stories are heartbreaking, painful and just as challenging as ours.

When Your Loved One Goes Inward

One of the biggest challenges that I see is when your loved one goes ‘inward.’ For men, especially, they feel a fear that paralyzes. They were raised not to feel, and their fear shuts the world out.

Many caregivers find this attitude challenging and painful when their spouse withdraws. Let’s face it: cancer and other life-limiting illnesses are scary for you and your loved one. Fear about what is happening and what is to come becomes the elephant in the room.

You feel helpless. Both of you retreat to your separate space in silence pretending the elephant is not in the room, fearing the future.

Here’s are a few suggestions from lessons I have learned along this journey.

Use Tenderness and Kindness

Gently open a conversation when you notice fear or any other feeling of desperation creep up. Ask your spouse about it: “I noticed when you said you might be feeling scared. I know this is not easy for you, but I am here and we can share the fear.”

Don’t push it. Tenderness and kindness can go a long way. If you don’t get any response, let it go and try again at another time.

Be Patient

Our tendency is to push, to try to force. This is a fierce journey, which is why patience is important in times of hardship.

Stay in the Present Moment

Don’t consider the future, as this can easily become a dreary topic. Instead, focus on the present. This will help you feel centered and grounded.

Show Compassion and Love

We care for our loved ones, and in time of sickness is when we really need to show it. Face this moment with compassion and love.

Breathe

Breathing has been known to reduce fear. When fear sets in, our breath becomes labored, shallow, and our body becomes tense and constricted.

There are so many ways to breathe. Yogic breath is optimal, but just being aware of slowing your inhale to the count of 4 and exhaling slowly to the count of 5 works wonders.

It takes courage for both of you to take this journey. It can be one of the most profound experiences for you and your loved one. It teaches you many life lessons about what it means to live life fully.

How do you stay connected with a loved one who has cancer? How do you share feelings with one another? How do you tend to your own feelings? Have you found any methods that have helped you on this journey? Please share your insights and tips below.

Ellen BachmeyerEllen Bachmeyer, LCSW, is the founder of Aging With Heart. A practicing psychotherapist and Life Coach, she has supported women in their 50’s, 60’s, and beyond through many life transitions from divorce to caretaking and grieving, to remarriage, grand parenting and encore careers. She is passionate about helping women face cultural barriers to finding and expressing their wisdom and voice on their way to thriving in every season of their lives. Ellen offers assistance in recapturing your life’s vitality, rebalancing, satisfying your needs and renewing your power to take meaningful action in your life. For more information you can visit her website Aging with Heart.

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