The Cancer Journey for the Caregiver is Like Two Ships In The Same Storm

The Storm Of Cancer

When cancer enters your life it can feel like you’ve entered into a storm at sea. All the sudden your ship, the one you’ve been steering faithfully all your life starts getting tossed around in the turbulent waves. Then you look to your partner’s ship and he is in the worst of that storm. It sometimes looks like his ship is barely staying afloat. If you have kids you see that their ships are also getting tossed around. 

Cancer is like that. When one member of your family gets it, you all enter that storm together. You all get tossed about.

Abandoning Your Ship

One thing I see many of my clients doing when they enter the storm of cancer is abandoning their own ship and trying to steer everyone else’s. They see that their partner, the one with cancer, can no longer handle his ship and needs help. They see their kids also struggling to manage their ships. Everyone is getting tossed about and the storm has no end in sight. 

I was just talking to one woman recently who had done this. Her husband was dealing with a cancer diagnosis and she was diligently telling him what he needed to eat to be healthy and what he needed to avoid. She was making the appointments, suggesting counseling, telling him all the ways he needed to be in order to get better. She had taken over all the household chores while still working herself. She was stressing and worrying that her husband wasn’t taking care of himself the way she knew he should. 

He seemed instead to be doing the opposite of what she told him. She was constantly worried about him, and yet he hadn’t even acknowledged her and all the help and effort she was making to help him. She simply couldn’t understand what was going on in his head. She wondered if it was the cancer that was causing him to behave so differently. 

Your Ship Goes Down

This woman’s health had started to suffer. She was so confused and so frustrated. She felt used and beat up. She felt taken advantage of and yet still tried to be compassionate and understanding toward her husband. He had cancer after all. That has to be hard on him. But then why was he doing all the wrong things and totally distancing himself from his family who loved him? Did he not see how this was affecting them? 

Not Doing The Right Things

You can’t know how someone will respond when they get a cancer diagnosis. When that person is your partner, someone you know and love and have been with for years, it’s natural to want them to do all the “right” things to fight this disease and get healthier. 

In the analogy of ships in the storm, what many caregivers do is abandon their own ship and begin trying to steer their partner’s ship. They see their partner navigating their ship in a way they just don’t understand, so they must need help steering. 

One Captain Only

This action has two consequences. First, every ship can have only one captain. One person to direct the course of that ship and command all the different parts. When you try to captain someone else’s ship, most of the time you will be met with resistance. You’re not the captain of that ship and even though you think the captain isn’t doing it right or really needs your help, it’s still not your place to steer their ship. 

That is what was happening with the woman I mentioned earlier. Her husband was rejecting all her efforts to steer his ship. The more she tried to help, the further away he went. It was frustrating and heartbreaking for her.

The second consequence is that when a caregiver abandons their ship to steer their partner’s ship, no one is left steering their ship. No one is directing the crew and all the moving parts. Inevitably, if left captain-less, their ship could hit a rock or sink. It needs a captain.

By devoting all her effort and energy toward her husband, this woman had nothing left for herself. Her own energy and health were starting to suffer. Her own health conditions were becoming exacerbated. Her ship needed it’s captain.

Steer Your Own Ship

I see the tendency in so many caregivers to want to steer their partner’s ship through cancer. I also tried to do that with my husband. Many times he wanted the help. Many times he would have gladly let go of the helm and let me take control. 

But it doesn’t work that way. We all have our own ship to steer in this life. We all have our own course to navigate, our own crew to manage, our own storms to weather. Sometimes in a marriage, it can feel like we are on the same ship, but that is never the case. We have just joined our ships and are navigating in the same direction. When cancer enters, our ships have entered the storm together, but we each are responsible for steering our own ship through that storm. 

This is a hard concept for a lot of caregivers to understand. They are already taking care of so much in their partners life and have usually taken over many chores and family responsibilities. They love their partner and want the best for them. They want them to feel like they aren’t alone. But by trying to steer their partner’s ship, they are also unwittingly communicating a message that their partner can’t handle their ship on their own. That they aren’t strong enough. By trying to take over, they communicate a lack of belief in their partner’s own abilities to take care of their own ship.  

Strengthen Your Own Crew

Instead, when a caregiver sticks with their own ship and takes care of that crew, they can become strong enough to lend support to their partner. They can shine their light brighter and use their own ship to guide their partner’s ship in a loving and trusting way. They can be there as a consistent source of support for when their partner needs it. Their ship is their responsibility alone to captain and if they abandon it, no one else will take the helm. When they allow their partner to steer their ship in their own way, without judgement, but instead love and support, they will feel so much better. They also create a greater opportunity for a deeper understanding and connection with their partner in this storm.


Are you a caregiver who has abandoned their own ship? Do you feel like you need help letting go of wanting to steer your partner’s ship? It’s painful, I know! You can’t continue to try steering someone else’s ship.

Let’s talk. This is an area where it really helps having a coach!

Click here to schedule a free consultation call. During this call I’ll help you figure out what exactly you are struggling with so you can get a clear picture of your problem and how to address it. Letting you own ship go captain-less is not the answer. Let’s get you back in command!

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