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Young adult caregiving: The partner perspective

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By Johanna Pule, Department of Social Work

120926youngadultcaregiving.JPGThis post is a continuation of the Young Adult Caregiving series. Part one detailed the role of a parent caregiver. This one focuses on issues specific to caregiving as the spouse or partner of a young adult patient.

In sickness and in health: Being the partner of a cancer patient living with cancer

Marriage, in fact, relationships in general, can be hard work. Throwing a diagnosis of cancer into the mix creates new obstacles and challenges for a young adult couple.

As the spouse or partner of a patient living with cancer, you may be the primary caregiver for your loved one throughout the course of treatment and may find yourself facing some of the following issues.

Fertility and intimacy

Many treatment side effects can lead to infertility in both male and female patients. As young adults, you may have been making plans to start a family. Often, the logistics of exploring the fertility options that are available, feasible and affordable can be daunting. Fertile Hope offers a fantastic collection of resources for assisting patients and their partners in this search.

Caring for the whole patient, sex life and all, is part of the standard, holistic approach to cancer care. Most health care providers are open to not only exploring fertility options, but are available to discuss intimacy issues with patients and their partners. 

Don't shy away from asking your physician, nurse or social worker the more personal questions about how the disease or treatment can affect the intimacy between you and your partner.

Managing the money
A cancer diagnosis can add a new level of complexity to the already stressful aspect of financial management within a relationship. Cancer is expensive; there is no way around it.

If it's not insurance and medical bills, it may be transportation/travel expenses, housing, food or various other needs. Most young adults, as they are starting out in their careers, haven't had an opportunity to save emergency funds to get through these difficult times.

Also, many adolescent and young adult patients may not have reached a point in their career that will allow for an extended absence from work. As a caregiver and spouse, you might find yourself working extra shifts or a second job to make ends meet.

You might also be spending your extra time speaking with medical billing or insurance companies.

The strain that comes with financial concerns is hard on relationships. When that's added to the stress of an illness, it can sometimes feel very overwhelming. But there's help.

Social Work counselors can assess for any available assistance for which you and your partner might qualify. Manage Cancer offers a collection of financial resource options for young adults.  American Cancer Society can provide a list of resources for a variety of needs related to cancer patients.

Aunt Bertha is also a great site to locate various government and nonprofit resources by zip code for anyone, with or without a cancer diagnosis, seeking assistance.

Seeking support
Life changed since the cancer diagnosis. There's no way you and your spouse could've prepared for it. The added responsibility of being a caregiver can significantly affect a relationship.

As a spouse or partner you may experience a variety emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness and loneliness. There will also be rewarding moments of self-sacrifice, intense devotion and a chance to express your deep love to your partner in ways you never would've imagined.

Through all of this, it's important to care for yourself.

The idea of self-care may seem impossible, given all of your roles and responsibilities, but it's just as important as the care you give to your partner. Rely on your support system to provide you as much help as possible. 

There are several support groups for caregivers and a variety of online resources available to help caregivers cope with a spouse or partner's illness.

If you and your partner begin to find the stress of marriage or the relationship becoming unmanageable, there are trained professionals available who have experience in providing counseling for couples facing cancer.

Social Work counselors are available in person and by phone to help. You can find the Department of Social Work online or call at 713-792-6195 for any additional information about the topics discussed.

1 Comment

A very valuable resource for unknowing young caregivers. One thing I would add is it is OK to share the facts and truth with a confidant. Often as young spouse caregivers feel like betraying a spouse if we were to disclose the medical situation. As a result no one can help. Getting help for yourself is just as important so you can be there for the patient.

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