Spouses Should Support, Not Direct, Cancer Care

Bob Riter
Bob Riter

I frequently hear cancer patients say that a spouse or partner is adding stress to their lives by constantly expressing their own opinions as to what is best for the patient.

Here are some examples:

  • “You have to go to New York City for all of your cancer treatments. You can’t get good care anywhere else.”
  • “Chemotherapy is poison that makes money for the medical-industrial complex. You need to pursue natural treatment instead.”
  • “You have to do everything possible to fight your cancer. Even if it extends your life for only one day, it’s worth doing.”

If it’s your own cancer, you should feel free to make whatever decisions you want. If it’s your spouse’s cancer, you should pretty much keep your mouth shut.

It’s fine to say what you think, especially if your spouse asks for your opinion. But once you state that opinion, drop it. Restating that opinion day after day is, at best, annoying, and, at worst, truly destructive.

One woman with cancer told me that she wanted to spend her energy understanding her options and making the best possible treatment decisions. Instead, she was spending her energy navigating the relationship with her husband because he had very strong opinions about what she should do and he expressed those opinions constantly.

Most spouses aren’t being malicious – they truly want to help. They’re trying to guide the patient to what the spouse truly believes is best.

But what’s best for one person is not best for the next person. The individual with cancer gets to decide.

A wonderful spouse is one who supports the patient’s decisions without judgement and without conflict.

My advice for a spouse: Be present. And be quiet.

Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Original publication date: April 30, 2016.

Bob Riter is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes. He can be reached at [email protected]

One thought on “Spouses Should Support, Not Direct, Cancer Care

  1. I’m helping my spouse navigate the cancer seas. Hard to do! But we are, I hope, able to do this together. The most difficult part for us is the siloed nature of the medical profession. I’m keeping a journal of sorts which I call “Job’s Syndrome”. The first section is posted on my website (www.workingforums.com) in case you are interested

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