What They Are Going Through
Cancer treatments are painful. Often more painful than the disease. Chemo and radiation are some of the most common treatments and while there are all sorts of variations, a lot of time these treatments can leave them feeling nauseous, bloated, and exhausted. They lose their hair, even their eyebrows! Quite often there will be many sessions over weeks or months. They may experience soreness or isolated pain in certain parts of their body. They are constantly being poked and prodded.
There is also the emotional trauma of what they are going through. A lot of times they will feel like utter crap. Not just for a couple of hours, or a day, but often days on end. They may be angry over the loss of their body or not being able to do certain things. They may feel like their body has betrayed them.
What We Go Through
We, as their spouse, have to watch them go through all of this. We can do little to ease their pain. We feel responsible and want to make them feel better or comfort them, but are helpless to do so. We are already taking care of them, either with medicine, or injections, preparing food, helping them move or with certain tasks. We are also their main emotional support and so we want to be strong and supportive.
Throughout my husband’s entire battle with cancer, I was always trying to fix his pain. His initial chemo was an extremely aggressive treatment requiring a 48 hour hospital stay each time. Not only was the treatment horrible, it left him nauseous and feeling utterly terrible for weeks afterward. It was meant to shrink the tumor in his arm before surgery. But it was ineffective – he went through all that pain and suffering for nothing! He was so angry about that for years afterward. He also lost the full use of his right arm, which he was also angry about.
I always felt like I needed to comfort him, but couldn’t. I was fearful of his moods – he was usually rather talkative and when he would get quiet, I knew he was upset. I always felt so bad and wanted to make him feel better. I felt like I needed to DO something, that it was up to me to comfort him. I felt terrible and helpless when I could do so little.
We Can’t Fix Their Pain
As caregivers for someone we love, our first response when they are in pain is to act, to fix the problem of their pain. To make it better. Like our children, we don’t want them to suffer, so we focus on removing the pain or comforting them.
The problem is we can’t fix their pain. It’s not in our control. By trying and failing, we suffer and feel helpless. Even though we feel bad, it still doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make them better, it just adds to the general suffering in the room.
They are suffering and now we are suffering too! It’s crazy!
Takes Us Out Of The Present
By focusing on the fix, we become less present to them and what they are experiencing. We get busy trying to help, or comfort and it’s harder for us to just be in the moment. Once when my husband had a sharp pain in his chest for an unknown reason, I hovered about, worried, asking him what I could do. He was scared and so was I. He said: Just love me Marika. It was profound for me. I stopped and just sat them with him, held his hand and tried to radiate love.
There is a concept we use in coaching called “holding space” for our client. It means we allow our client to express whatever emotion they are going through without judgement. We provide a safe and loving space for them to express whatever they are feeling, without worrying about how they come across. We don’t try to help them or comfort them. We don’t try to offer suggestions on how they may feel better. We give them room to just express themselves, to be fully in that emotion.
This alone can be so powerful.
Sometimes we don’t want to be fixed.
Sometimes we just need to rage, hurt, feel sad, or feel fear.
Sometimes we need someone to listen.
What We CAN Do
Holding space for their pain is always something you can do. You don’t need to react to their pain or try to fix or make it better. It’s not your job to fix their suffering. You don’t have that control.
You can always love them. You can be a loving witness to their pain. You can allow them space to express themselves fully, in a safe and loving environment, without fear of consequence.
What This Does For YOU
It releases you from the responsibility of making them better, when you simply can’t.
Instead, it allows you to focus on being present.
It allows you to harness love.
It allows you to connect.
What This Does For Them
It allows them to be present and fully express and process what they are feeling.
It allows them to express their emotions without having to worry about you, or anyone else and just BE in the moment of their pain.
Act, Then Hold Space
Holding space for their pain doesn’t mean you don’t first take action. If they need it, call the doctor, get them some pain medication, or help them get more comfortable.
But afterward, when there is nothing left to DO, then you can hold space for their anger, frustration, yelling, nauseousness, sadness, or grumpiness.
Remind yourself that there is nothing more you need to DO, but just witness and hold space.
Remind yourself that what they are expressing, even if they are yelling at you, doesn’t mean anything about them and it doesn’t mean anything about you.
Remind yourself that there is nothing to fix.
This can require a mental shift and some practice. If you want help with this, then schedule a free consult!
Click here to schedule a consult.
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