Anything I can do to help my wife through this.

My wife, Julie, was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 weeks ago and had a mastectomy 6 days later. We’ve since learnt that the cancer has also spread to her lymph nodes and as a consequence she has to undergo chemo for 18 weeks, then radiotherapy afterwards…a daunting prospect for her! We’ve been happily married for 25 years with 3 teenage children and this all came came out of the blue and has rocked our happy family to the core. Although the prognosis for Julie, who’s only 48, is very good we are all very scared, especially me! She will have all the love and support we can give but there are hard times ahead. Julie entered this website to learn more about what’s ahead for her, learn from the experiences of others and hopefully deal with everything a little better. After reading some of the stories and comments of others with Julie I felt it would also benefit her if i also learnt more about what’s to come from a partner’s perspective, to do anything I can to try to help my wife and our children through the rigors of the next 6 months. Anything I can learn will be of great value. Thanks for listening.
Cheers
Graham

Hi Graham

Thanks for posting to the site, I am sure that your support for Julie will be a fantastic help to her. You might find some of our publications helpful at this time, Two especially, ‘In it Together’, which gives advice to partners of people with breast cancer and ‘Talking to Children’. You can find them (and other info) at

breastcancercare.org.uk/content.php?page_id=5259

on this site.

Best wishes

Louise

Moderator

Breast Cancer Care

Thank you for your good wishes and advice Louise, I’ll have a read of the publications you mentioned now. Anything that can help me be better for Julie is greatly appreciated
Thanks
Graham

Hi Graham

The best thing you can do (which I am sure you have done already) is to let her know you are there for her. When she wants time for herself dont take it personally just let her have it sometimes we need time to think and get things together in our minds.

As for your children just be there for them and the breast care nurses can speak with them and also they can write on this website.

Hope this helps

Lesley

Graham,

we have a similar background. - I’m 50 diagnosed Feb this year a month after my 50th birthday and have been very happily married for 30 years with 2 girls in their early 20’s. My lymph nodes were also affected.
My chemo lasted just over 5 months - i finished the 5th of this month and I’m due to start rads on the 1st Oct. I can tell you that I have been very positive throughout which I find has helped both me and my family. as a husband just be there when she needs you. Expect her to have a rant and a rave sometimes. She may feel a loss of confidence at certain stages especially when her hair goes - just be there to boost her confidence - it really does help when you’re told you are still beautiful.
the chemo was very do-able and the good days far outnumbered the bad days - this was my experience i had epi /cmf chemo. as a family we all expected at the start of this that I would be fit to do nothing through most of the treatment - I think that there was only about 5 days that I had where I did nothing - most days I continued with cooking,cleaning etc although hubby did help more - it was great to do things together. I have been on the sick from work from the beginning and this has sooo helped me. I don’t think I would have been so good if I had to keep a job going as well. hope this helps

Hi Graham Just thought I would let you know how we coped I had a mastectomy and all my lymph nodes removed last January then I had to have 8 sessions of chemo every 3 weeks. I am 49 years old We have been married for 30 years I finished all my treatment 8 weeks ago and my hair has come back great so believe me there is light at the end of the tunnel. At the time when she is going through treatment you will not think so I use to say terrible things to my husband things I didnt think I was capable of saying but he was still there.The treatment is hard at the time but looking back now it has gone so quick. Please dont think I am being smug having finished my treatment but I just wanted to let you know that an end does come to the treatment. I do have to take tablets for the next 5 years the are called Arimadexand yes they do give me aching joints but I feel its a small price to pay for my life. Also she will need time to herself I just used to go upstairs and have a couple of hours to myself then come back down fine. Y ou must be a great husband even coming on here to find out how to help her. I do wish you all the very best If there is anything you wish to know then just ask me. Give my Love to your wife Love Linda xxxxxx

Hi Graham,

I was diagnosed in February this year, aged 44, had a mastectomy (3/16 lymph nodes, 2.7cm grade three tumour) and have just finished 8 chemos (4 x FEC & 4 x Taxotere). Due to have rads, herceptin & tamoxifen. Married 21 years, almost three teenagers (youngest is 12 tho’ her behaviour qualifies her as a teenager!) So we’re not that different from you.

On dx my husband was lent a book called ‘Breast Cancer Husband’ by Marc Silver by some friends of ours who are two years ahead of us on this BC journey. You can find it on Amazon. It is American so a lot of the information relating to the medical process doesn’t apply but I know my husband has found it very useful from an emotional & practical point of view.

It’s very normal to be scared - we all are. It’s one thing to be sympathetic when it happens to someone we know, but quite something else when it happens to us. It is such a bolt out of the blue.

Please just be there for your wife, and don’t be dismayed by the mood swings. It is all such an emotional rollercoaster (such a cliche, but how else to describe it?) I called my post chemo persona ‘grumpy git’ - no matter that I knew the worst would only last a few days each time, it plunged me into a depression each time, and I was very short with nearest & dearest. However, on a positive note I have been well enough to work most of the time, only taking a few days off with each cycle. I also run every other day, and only miss out two or three runs with each chemo. I did the Race for Life between chemos 6 & 7, only finishing a few minutes slower than my pre dx times, so as you can see, normal life can mostly continue. (Everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to run on chemo - but I do and it makes me feel better - I think it’s important to do what feels right for you and ignore what others tell you).

Be prepared to do a lot more in the house - I have found that even when I appear to be OK, I just have not had the reserves of patience that I used to have, and minor upsets can get blown out of all proportion.

If any of your children are taking GCSE’s or A levels - extra marks can be awarded, up to 5% I believe, if they don’t do as well as expected and there are problems such as cancer in the family. Make sure you let the school know - I wrote a letter to the school’s examination officer. As a result my daughter’s AS English is now being re-marked.

I’m sorry you have joined us on this horrible journey, it’s not something you would wish on anyone, but we all get through it with the support of friends and family, and I think we come out the other end better people for it. Tell your wife that chemotherapy is not as scary as she thinks it is - yes it is horrible, but nowhere near as horrible as we all imagine before starting.

Best wishes to you all.

xx

Hi Graham,

I am in a similar situation to your wife only treatment has taken a different route. In fact I had a mastectomy four days ago. It began with a lumpectomy and partial lymph node clearance followed by 6 rounds of chemo and 25 radiotherapy sessions. The cancer came back in my lymph nodes within months and so I had a total clearance. Again it returned within 6 months and hence my latest surgery. I will know on October 16th whether I need more chemo.

I am lucky and have been able to keep positive for most the time. I am so grateful to my husband for just listening because I was worried about becoming a cancer bore. If I wanted to talk about the fact I might die he let me. I don’t know if it is helpful for me to pretend it might not happen. I think I need to explore all avenues of emotions. It was hard telling my 2 sons and daughter (In their 20’s so I can’t say kids!) The youngest is the most sensitive and its hard to tell him I will be cured because I may not. My husband and I have a solid relationship but I do not want to tell him all my thoughts because sometimes I want to take this journey on my own. In fact I took myself in hospital for most of the treatments! I think he understands and I hope he doesn’t feel pushed out. I like to work things out myself sometimes as it gives me a sense of control over the cancer, if I have to worry about if I am upsetting the family then it just clouds things. Please allow your wife these swings between wanting your full input to the next moment being told to shut up! Its hard I am sure but if she can’t let steam off in a safe and secure relationship where the heck can she!

I would have liked my husband to reply to your email but he is an extremely private person, but he does wish you and your family well.

Cheers
Carol

Hi Graham

I agree with Carol, as sometimes we just want to take control of this ourselves. Just try and be supportive when needed but don’t overdo it to the point that your wife feels you’re patronising or overwhelming. Like earlier comments, it’s a very emotional time and can’t be easy for you guys at all. My husband seems to realise now that if I want to talk I will but he doesn’t have to mention it every five minutes. Just the occasional ’ You alright love’ is fine by me because I can either pour my heart out or if I don’t feel the need thats O.K. also. Just be a good listener thats what she really needs, and if she needs a girlie chat just tell her to get in touch with us on this site. There is nothing that she can’t talk about, we are all here to listen.
It’s good you have entered this site and hope it helps you both.

Good Luck

Norma

Hi, Graham. I was 46 when I had my mastectomy, then rads and chemo.

I guess by now that all your family members and friends and colleagues you want to know have already been briefed on what’s going on. If not, that’s something you could take over from Julie if she would like you to. It’s really stressful sharing this sort of news, isn’t it? and it’s a stress Julie could do without.
A couple of things to confirm what’s gone before - if Julie has not had a hysterectomy, her chemo will give her a sudden early menopause so on top of the shock and grief of the cancer diagnosis and change of body shape and the loss of her breast, you two will be living in a few short weeks through hormonal changes too. In my experience this is the least of problems but I know that some women do experience greater moodiness, from the combination of what life has thrown at them. Bear in mind that how ever many children you have had, when a woman passes through menopause, she normally has several years to adjust to the end of her child-bearing potential at a time when she would normally start looking forward to grandchildren one day perhaps. A chemo-induced menopause short circuits this and a woman has to handle all the changes and feelings about them from one month to the next. Just the knowledge of this can be hard to accept and marks us out as different from other woman who have years for the process. Also, energy will be low - surgery, particularly the general anaesthetic, knocks the stuffing out of you and the need to be up and running within weeks through the subsequent treatment is in itself exhausting. On top of this the treatments can and often do cause fatigue, which will mean that much more rest than usual and smaller “to do lists” and less capacity to deal with the day to day problems of others. This doesn’t mean you step in and take over, but does mean it would be great if you could be there more and talk about this every few days, to divide up the things to do so that you both work within Julie’s capacity without her over-reaching her limit or beating herself up for not being able to do more. This is going to be a time for her to explore what her boundaries are during treatment and recovery, including needing maybe more time to herself.
Have you read any of the books on how to adapt Julie’s diet to support her treatment? If you have and Julie decides to change her diet, you could have a role in shopping for the ingredients and learning how to prepare them and also maybe do some of the cooking with and for your teenagers if Julie starts eating things you and the kids don’t want to.

In a busy household, it’s maybe going to be hard for Juile to make time for the new routines she may need to introduce to look after herself 100%. You can help here by making that time for her when she doesn’t make space for herself.
Encourage Julie to exercise as much as possible and maybe do the exercise with her - firstly to restore and extend the mobility in her arm and shoulder, secondly to stimulate her immune response (walking is good for this as it helps the lymph to move around the body and not get blocked or stale) and thirdly to fight the fatigue from chemo and radiotherapy. It is well established now that exercise every day during treatment (say a 20 minute walk as a minimum) improves energy levels and speeds up recovery. It may be the last thing either of you want ot do or it may already be part of your lifestyle. Maybe if not, you and your kids could get into it. This is a time for Julie to become as physically fit as circumstances allow for the benefit of longterm wellbeing. It takes time and energy and organisation to take up regular exercise but pays huge dividends both now and later.

A last tip - be gentle on yourself through all this. You will also need adequate rest and some time to yourself. We’re only human and you also need time to adjust and to give support to the kids and to receive support from your friends and family. And this goes on from here on. And don’t forget that a good laugh or a smile will release all sorts of healing and feelgood factors for both of you and the kids too. There’s a book which you may find helpful “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat Zinn who founded the stress reduction clinic at Massachusetts Medical School for people coping with stress, pain and illness. You have to order the accompanying CD’s separately and if reading the book seems too much, listen to and follow the CD’s of guided meditations. I’ve found it calming and supportive and it’s good to have someone to meditate with.

Wishing you both well,
Jenny