I’m Afraid I Won’t Know What To Do!

Dealing With A Crisis When Your Spouse Has Cancer

It’s Up To You

You are your spouse’s primary caregiver. You are not a doctor. Yet, you probably feel like you are charged with his well being. If something goes wrong, it will be up to you to handle it. If he has had cancer for a while, you have probably faced this situation a few times already. 

Do you feel like you’re out of your league, totally unqualified to make decisions in a medical crisis? It can be a frightening and overwhelming responsibility. At the same time, you are there by their side and most likely it will fall to you to act if something goes wrong.   

My Story

For me, there were several occasions during my husband’s struggle with cancer where I was in a panic about what to do. I remember one time in particular where he had been extremely lethargic for several days and was essentially confined to the couch. One Saturday morning he looked and felt unusually clammy and I remember reading somewhere that it would be dangerous if his body temperature dropped too low. (Even thinking back on this event now, my heart starts pounding.) 

I decided to call 911.  I remember telling my husband I was calling the paramedics and it frightened him as much as me. When the paramedics arrived, they assessed him and decided he was in no immediate danger. The lead paramedic was incredibly understanding as he had a family member with cancer. My husband did not end up having to go to the hospital that day, but I do not for one minute regret that I made that call. 

Common Fear

Not knowing what to do is such a common fear of family caregivers. No wonder! We feel like we have a huge responsibility on our shoulders. This is someone we love and so our minds will automatically go to all sorts of worst case scenarios.

However, this fear doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t help us to act in the moment and often the mere anticipation of something going wrong raises our anxiety level on a daily basis. 

Thoughts Create Feelings

One of the fundamental concepts I coach on is that our thoughts create our feelings. This is a truth that most of us are not really aware of until it is pointed out. When we have thoughts like the ones below running through our mind, we are going to feel fearful and anxious.  

I don’t know what to do.

I won’t act quickly enough.

What if I’m not there to help him?

Any human who is thinking these thoughts would feel that way. It’s a normal human response.

Feelings Drive Our Actions

The second part of the equation is that our feelings drive our actions. When we feel confident and empowered we will take actions in accordance with those feelings. When we feel scared and anxious we will be tense, slower to respond, and often second guess our decisions. This is because how you are thinking will drive the types of actions you take.

Mindset Is Important

Thoughts create our feelings, and feelings drive actions, so what you are thinking in a crisis is very important. You want to be taking actions from a place of calm or commitment, not fear or anxiety.

How To Get There

You might be thinking, ok, so how do I think something better? I’m not a doctor, I’m his spouse! I really don’t know what to do! 

Prepare Ahead Of Time

There are two simple things you can do to move yourself out of fear and feel more prepared if something happens to your spouse.

  1. Get Your Mindset Right
  • If your brain is on default telling you that you won’t know what to do, you need to reprogram your brain. The truth is, you can figure it out. You have resources. You can ask his doctor or Google it. You can figure this out!
  1. Create A Plan
  • This doesn’t mean you need medical training, it simply means you need to create a plan. That plan can be as simple as calling 911. Or call his doctor. You should ask your husband’s doctor what exactly you should do if something happens. Write down key phone numbers and put them on the fridge or in your phone. Think through exactly what you would do and write it down. Do this process while you are feeling calm. 

Practice Your New Thought

Now that you have a plan and have thought through what you will do if something happens, you need to retrain your brain. Choose and practice a new thought that is believable and feels good. It can be something as simple as:

I know what to do.

I have a plan.

I just need to call 911, then be there for him.  

Most likely, your brain will still offer you the old thought that you don’t know what to do. That only because it was your default thought and your brain is used to that sentence. Remind yourself often of your new thought. Write it on a sticky, put it in your phone. Practice it so that it becomes your new default. 

If something happens, it may still be scary, but you will know what to do and you will act.  

To read more about your thoughts, see my post Our Brain In a Rut.

To read more about feelings, see my post Feelings…


In my Caregiver Resiliency Program, I will work with you one-on-one to uncover your thoughts, then create a plan that will serve you in a crisis. Click here to sign up for a consult today!

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