Cancer. A word that no one wants to hear or say. A word which even in this modern time conjures up thoughts of death. The surgeries, the chemo, the radiation, at times, you wonder will it ever stop. And at times, you wonder, how much fight the both of you have. But, somehow, by the Grace of God, you work your way through it all, and as a couple, you become stronger. Along the way, you learn some valuable lessons. There are some "do's" and "don'ts" which should be practiced, as a family with cancer, or as friends of a family with cancer.

Though, I talk as a caregiver, and as a man, what I say holds true for women who are caretakers. The most obvious of all things to realize is that things will change. First, the surgeries, will "steal" parts of your loved ones body, making them feel, unattractive and less desirable. Do say "I love you," don't avoid them or look away. That person is still your soul-mate. No matter
how silly, their fears may sound - listen, and don't say "you shouldn't feel that way." They're feelings and they have a right to feel anyway they want. Sometimes, saying nothing is the best thing to do. I remember when my ex-wife started chemo, she was told she would lose her hair in 14 days. On the 13th day, her hair fell out. Not a little at a time, but all at once. I was standing next to her as she pulled out clump after clump. It was a shock and a fear which can only be described as unknown. As she started to cry, I just hugged her. We stood motionless, until she was done crying, we cleaned up the hair, and found her a hat. She didn't wear wigs or scarfs, just baseball caps.

Don't expect your partner to be loving or even caring. And please, don't take it personal. They don't feel well. The sad part is, what will make them better (chemo), will first make them sicker. They’ll have no appetite, so don't expect them to fix your meals, but do try to fix something for them. Whether they eats it or not, isn't important. The message they will receive is, your thinking of them. If you don’t know how to cook, now is a good time to learn. It’s also a good time to learn how to do the laundry. I don't think anyone, can honestly say, how sick your love one is. I just remember the moans, the crying, and the endless trips throughout the night, into the bathroom, to vomit. If there was ever a time in your life, where you absolutely, must not think of yourself, it's now. Your partner needs you. While at times, you'll feel neglected or rejected, years later, you'll be happy you did what you did.

Whatever you can do, to take away all fears and stresses, from your loved one - do it. Don't let them see any bills. Pay them on time, if you can't, call the people, before they call you. Your partner, needs to concentrate on their health. But, as hard as it is, don't take control of their medical program. Go with to their doctor's appointments, ask questions, you want answered, but let them run the show. Let them set up the appointments and manage their health. Yes, you'll be there when they can't do it and help when you are asked. But again, this is part of their battle, part of the recovery that they need to fight, with your support, not your control.

If you have high school age or younger children, don't "dump" all your fears on them. They probably have a lot more then you ever thought of. And don't shield them from the reality of cancer. They want to help, but most of the time, they don't know what to do. Ask them, to spend time with Mom(Dad), just sit and talk. If they feel well enough, they might even enjoy trying to help with their homework. Let the kids and Mom(Dad), set their own boundaries. Don't interfere, thinking, Mom's(Dad) to sick to do that. The kids are smarter then we may think, they'll know when they aren't up to it. Have faith in your partner, have faith in your kids, and have faith in yourself.

One thing a couple can do is get informed. After cancer is confirmed, read up on it and learn the different methods of treatment. By the time you go to your first doctors appointment you’ll know the questions that are needed to be asked. You’ll know what to expect from chemo, as well as radiation. Anything you don’t understand, then ask the doctors to please help you understand. When something does happen, you know it was "normal" because you read about it or you asked about it. Being informed, keeps you in control, and helps you manage cancer.

OK, there are some "do's" and "don'ts" as a family, but what about your friends and neighbours. If you ask a survivor or a caretaker "How are you doing," be prepared for an answer. If you really don't want to know, please don't ask. So many times, people would ask and I'd start telling them about my fears, when they'd cut me off, and say something like, "You got broad shoulders, you can handle it," or "God wouldn't give you more then you could handle." I really didn't want, nor did I need a pep talk. I just wanted you to listen.

Please realize everybody who does chemo, reacts differently. We don't want to hear about a sister or a brother who had a cancer and went through chemo just fine. Just as there are different cancers, there are also different chemo drugs. I know you're trying to offer words of encouragement, but again, sometimes the best thing to do, is say nothing and just listen. By listening, you'll understand and you'll learn what we truly need. We know you want to help, so please listen.

You won't catch cancer from someone who has it, so you don't need to avoid us. We realize, you may be uncomfortable with everything and have no idea of what to say or do, but you don't need to run and hide either. Believe me, we understand. We had no idea either.

Don't take "no" for an answer. Stupid human pride, at times, tells us, we can handle this and we don't need any help. Don't ask, just do it. So many times, you’ll come home from work, just wore out from your job and the stress of seeing your partner so sick and feeling so helpless, you just don’t know what to do. It was at these times, God would send an angel. A neighbour, who'd bring a meal over. We didn't ask for it, they just did . Those meals, were some of the best meals I've ever eaten.

At work, my co-workers had "food drives." On three straight Friday's, I went home with a car full of groceries. These people, like so many others, wanted to help, but didn't know what to do. So they came up with different ideas, which always seem to happen, when we truly needed them. They felt wanted and needed, we felt relieved, without being beggars.

There is no correct way of dealing with cancer. Its like parenthood, you do the best you can at the time. I'm thankful that God gave me the strength and courage to fight it. First, as a caretaker and then as a patient. Please, don't live in fear of cancer. People who have it, will answer you questions and will talk openly about it. They don't want your pity or your sorrow, just a shoulder to lean on and someone who will listen. Eventually, God willing, cancer will be wiped off the face of the earth, due to the advances in medical science. But no one, should forget the support system for survivors and their families and the power it gives to all of us.

Author's Bio: 

Dave Harm is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for over 20 years. He is an NLP Master Practitioner, Hypnotist, and Life Coach. He is the author of three books and the creator of two musical CD's.

He shares his experience and journey on his website