You just received news that has completely changed your life. Your spouse was just diagnosed with cancer, now what? I remember the day vividly when I learned of my husband’s diagnosis. I had just returned home from a business trip, and as we drove back from the airport, he said, “Marika, there is something I need to tell you.” By his tone, I knew it was serious, and I was immediately worried. I was wholly unprepared for him to say he was diagnosed with cancer! My first reaction was complete shock and disbelief. Then question after question came to mind as I sat there and tried to process what he’d just told me.
The following days and weeks were a blur. I remember going to our local oncologist with him and seeing “Cancer Center” on the wall of the hallway. I thought to myself, how did we end up here? I was on an emotional roller coaster. Some days I felt shocked and overwhelmed. Other days I felt sad and fearful. My mind kept swirling with all sorts of questions and worries about our future, which now seemed totally up in the air.
If you feel scared, overwhelmed, and anxious about the future, you are not alone. This is a time of great adjustment, and it’s normal to get flooded with so many thoughts and emotions. You will get through this, though! I’m here to help by sharing the first 6 things you should do when your spouse receives a cancer diagnosis.
Your Spouse was Just Diagnosed with Cancer, Now What?
This is a time of adjustment emotionally, mentally, and in your relationship. Now is when all the emotions come up. Shock, fear, overwhelm, sadness, grief. Now is when the questions start. What happens next? How much time do we have? Now is when your self-care routine is more important than ever. Now is also a time to get additional support for yourself so that you can best support your spouse. Now is when you begin adjusting your expectations and plans for the future. Now is the time to lean in and really connect with your spouse. Now is when you must learn how to navigate a cancer diagnosis that you never saw coming. It is an overwhelming time, but you can make it through when you take it day by day.
6 Things to Do First When Your Spouse is Diagnosed with Cancer
Getting the news of your spouse’s diagnosis can feel shocking and overwhelming. It can be hard to know what to do and how to react. From my experience of hearing about my husband’s cancer diagnosis and from all the clients I’ve worked with who’ve experienced the same thing, I’m here to answer your burning question: My spouse was just diagnosed with cancer, now what? Here are 6 things you should do when your spouse is just diagnosed with cancer.
1. Take a Breath
I know everything feels overwhelming and too much to handle, but you can make it through this. Expect to feel a lot of emotions right now. You may experience feelings of fear, shock, grief, overwhelm, sadness, anxiety, and even anger. All of these emotions are completely normal. It doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong. It just means you are adjusting to a major upset in your life. While you may want to escape these feelings through food or alcohol, resist that temptation because it won’t work and will often make you feel worse. Instead, allow the emotions to come up. The more you allow yourself to feel all these emotions, the less they will overwhelm and exhaust you. See How To Ride the Rollercoaster Of Emotions When Your Partner Has Cancer.
2. Begin a Journal
You’ve received some shocking news, and now you are wondering what happened to your life. Your mind is naturally trying to adjust and incorporate this major change. As a result, you will start having all sorts of thoughts, fears, and questions come up in your mind. This is the perfect time to start writing in a journal. Use it as a place to explore your thoughts and emotions. You want to give them a place to go so that they don’t continue to swirl around in your head, keeping you up at night. Use this journal to unload all your darkest thoughts and fears. Most people want to hide from those thoughts and emotions, but instead, you want to get them out of your head. Just because you think them doesn’t make them true! These fears and worries are simply your mind trying to make sense of your new reality.
3. Maintain Your Self-Care Habits
Whatever you are currently doing to take care of yourself, don’t stop! Yes, you will be attending doctor appointments and waiting on results. However, resist the urge to drop everything and focus on your spouse. Your spouse may need to lean on you in the coming weeks and months, and maintaining your own health and energy is the only way to be strong and supportive. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep your self-care habits!
4. Get Support
This time is difficult for both of you. You may also have a job, household, and family to look after. Don’t try to be a superhero and do it all! This will only lead to burnout and exhaustion. Get support. Find a close friend, a therapist, a coach–someone who can listen without judgment. Someone who can support and help you process everything you’re going through.
5. Lean into Your Spouse
You need each other now more than ever. While your first reaction might be to switch into go-mode, don’t forget to pause and lean in and on each other during this time. You both will be experiencing your own emotions, and you may have very different responses to them. That is OK and normal. This can be a time of deep connection, so don’t be afraid to share your true feelings.
If you journal all your thoughts and emotions that arise, you can share and connect with your spouse without burdening them by “dumping” on them. You may find it difficult to see your spouse in pain and want to try to spare them from this somehow. But their emotions are not within your control. They don’t need you to fix them. They just need your love and support. Read How to Support a Spouse or Partner During Cancer Treatment by “Holding Space.”
6. Adjust Your Expectations
In the beginning, it’s a waiting game: waiting for results, answers, and next steps. You may be in a rush and want answers and a plan. You become impatient with yourself or your spouse and how you each are adjusting. Take a breath. This is a process. Decide to be patient and manage your expectations. This includes being patient with the medical process, yourself, and your spouse as you adjust to the news. Let yourself be where you are. It takes time to adapt to this new reality. However, by taking all the steps listed here, you will position yourself to best adjust to this new development in your life.
Your Spouse was Just Diagnosed with Cancer, Now Let’s Work Together
In this post, I went over some answers to that burning question: My spouse was just diagnosed with cancer, now what? Now is the time to take a breath, allow your emotions to come up, and journal all of your thoughts and feelings. Now is the time to practice self-care, get support from a friend or coach, and lean in and connect with your spouse. You need each other more than ever. Adjust your expectations and be willing to be patient with the medical system and yourself.
And most importantly, know that you don’t have to go through this alone. As a coach for you when your spouse has cancer, I’d love to come alongside you. I have several programs that can support you wherever you are on this journey. You can view them by clicking here!