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How to cope with your spouse's illness
Kanchan Maslekar
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August 22, 2007

When 35-year-old Meghana was diagnosed with breast cancer, the Sathye family almost crumbled -- but not quite. Her husband Madhav stood by her -- managing office, home, hospital, and the kids (a seven-year-old and a four-year-old).

"He really made recuperating easy for me!" remarks Meghana, as she looks back over the last three years. "Of course, we had a support system in place, with my parents, in-laws and friends, who really supported us through the crisis. But this team was able led by my husband," smiles Meghana, who has fully recovered from the illness now.

It's never easy to deal with the hospitalisation of a loved one, particularly so when it's your spouse that is admitted. The healthy partner is suddenly left alone to deal with the crisis. Handling a spouse's illness is like an emotional battle with additional wars like finances, and juggling work and the family.

Getting the 'forces' together
"Our parents do not live in the same city, but we planned and coordinated their visits so that at least one set of parents would be here to care for the children, when we were not around," says Madhav.

He recalls that they sat down with calendars and a diary to plan for the year. "Of course there were some last minute changes, but we stuck to the schedule."

"Our friends were also of great help and would often take the children out on weekends, or pack picnic lunches for all of us," he adds.

Dealing with the patient
Says Reena Dhaware, psychologist and family counselor, "It's very difficult to deal with young patients as they go through this "why me?" phase and family worries become a major concern.

It's necessary that the person recognises and accepts the illness and learns to manage life with the illness. This step makes it relatively easy for the family to the come to terms and cope with the situation. "Though we understand that it is the patient who needs all the cheering up and motivation, it really helps if the patient can help the family cope," she remarks.

Educate yourself concerning every aspect of the illness, she informs. Also, depending on the nature of illness and the partner, explain what kind of treatment, s/he will undergo so that the patient is mentally prepared, say Dhaware.

A long-term illness can cause a tense situation at home and the family should prepare itself. "There is no lack of love or caring, it's just that such situations tend to get a little out of hand and both the partners need to understand this," she warns.

The finances
Finances are another aspect of dealing with such a situation. Making the right provisions for a medical emergency and getting the available finances together to make the necessary provisions are key considerations the healthy partner needs to prepare for.

Identify professionals, if need be, to take care of your finances. Of course, make sure they are trustworthy, because another crisis is the last thing you need.

Get a check on the finances, like making sure you have joint accounts, all the important documents in place, double check the deeds to property, vehicle registrations, Social Security cards and insurance policies.  

Keep the lines of communication open
You might feel, anxious, scared, angry, happy, sad, and curious�whatever you emotions share the feeling with the spouse. By doing this you will not be bogged down by your own feelings and will help you cope with the situation better.

It is also necessary to maintain your marriage through the illness. Of course, getting well remains a priority, but spending some leisure time, or helping each other cope with the physical aspect of your marriage should be a part of the healing process.

Let your partner help
Encouraging independence and also involving the partner in the daily chores can achieve this.

Let him/ her write the to-do list or help with the financial papers or the kids' homework. This will have the dual advantage of helping you out and also enable them to utilise their time better.

Seek counseling
It is not your fault that you find it difficult to cope with the situation and there is no shame in seeking help; especially if it helps you come to terms with your problems. Sometimes, a friend can act as one or you can also look for a professional.

Fighting fatigue
It is necessary for at least one of you to be absolutely fit and healthy so do not compromise on your health and diet. Have lots of veggies and fruits and make sure you are hydrated, as you will need all your strength. If possible, go for a morning or an evening walk, this will not only keep you fit but also give you some personal space and 'me time'.

Child care
Help your children understand the illness as much as their age allows.

"My friends were my saviours. They entertained my kids, even attended their parent teacher meetings," says Lina, whose husband was hospitalised for nine months, when he developed complications during a routine appendicitis operation.

"We sat down with my children -- Arav (12) and Anna (8) -- and explained that since dad was in hospital, they would have to spend some time with our friends. Once in 10 days, my friends took over hospital duty, and me and kids would go for a quite dinner or catch a play, or just sit together and chat."

Lina says that parents often tend to feel guilty about lack of time for the children. "But I believe the need is to have a back-up arrangement, and leave the kids with someone you trust and the kids love," she says.

"Of course parents need to be around and give as much time and attention as possible, but I don't think one must try to be a superhero. Instead, delegate the tasks till the family is back to normal," she advises.
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