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Taking care of your marriage when your child has cancer 

Parents face many challenges when their child is diagnosed with cancer. This article helps you to find ways of staying connected and supporting each other in your relationship.  

A child’s cancer diagnosis can cause stress and pressure in a relationship. For some, their relationships may strengthen, for others, the added stress can cause other problems or intensify existing issues. The emotional, practical, and logistical complexities that come with caring for their child can put a significant strain on family life. 

While some partners become closer and their relationship is strengthened as they care for and support their child, the worry and the demands of caring can put significant stress on a relationship. This can be made harder when people have different coping styles and ways of showing emotion, and by the physical separation that often happens as one partner still needs to work or stay home to care for other children. 

Parents can experience disruptions across various aspects of their lives. The physical distance between partners can cause challenges such as: 

  • Miscommunication due to the primary carer being at the hospital full-time 
  • Often the parent at the hospital is needing to make medical decisions and not always being able to discuss things with their partner 
  • Feelings of loneliness and Isolation due to being away from their partner and family 
  • Confusion and sometimes conflict caused by sudden routine changes, as one or both parents may not know what their new responsibilities are to the full extent 
  • Roles within the family shifting, when one parent has to take on sole household duties as well as working to support the family 
  • Experiencing exhaustion or overwhelmed due to everything going on around you 

All these factors mean there can be a higher risk of misunderstandings and fatigue. Being aware of these risks can help you take steps to avoid them. These steps might include:   

  • Being gentle with each other and keeping expectations realistic.  
  • Understand each other’s coping styles 
  • Asking for tangible support around the home so it doesn’t become overwhelming for both parents    
  • Talking regularly, whether it’s on the phone or in person, to keep the lines of communication openly 
  • Taking breaks, even for a short amount of time can help to recharge and rest  
  • Asking family and friends to help with your children so you can have a break and spend some quality time with your partner  

When Fiona’s 14-month-old daughter Matilda was diagnosed with Leukaemia, her family came together to make sure Fiona and her husband Will could stay connected and spend time together and with their other daughter Maisie.  

“We had a rotation. Will’s mum came out for three months and then his dad came out for three months so we would rotate. Will would keep working and I would rotate with my in-laws. It might be that I would spend two or three nights with Matilda and my mother-in-law, who’d be at home with Maisie, would look after Maisie and then we’d do a swap and Lindsay, my mother-in-law, would come in, look after Matilda. I’d come home and look after Maisie and so on and so forth. 

Then Will would come in on the weekends. Will’s job is quite demanding, but he wanted his time with Matilda as well. That’s also another challenge is it splits your family, because you never get time together as a whole family and you only get time with one child at a time, which is hard.” 

“Even though Will and I operate very differently, we just became such a good team. I would actually say we bonded even more and became more understanding. Where one fell down, the other would help each other up.”  

If you feel the tension is rising with you and your partner, reach out to Redkite for support and counselling. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone who isn’t involved in the situation. 

Pat’s five-year-old son Archer (Archie) being diagnosed with leukaemia, which led to the most painful, helpless, scary, and stressful 12 months of the family’s life. Redkite offered Pat counselling and it was the emotional support he didn’t know he needed. 

“I’m grateful for Redkite because there was someone there listening when I needed to talk to someone, somebody outside of the family situation, so I felt like I wasn’t burdening them, especially my wife and my sister, with my thoughts and feelings, or what I was going through. It is always hard to open up and be vulnerable to friends and family.” 

A professional like your hospital social worker or a member of the Redkite support team can help you and your partner to come up with ways to stay connected and support each other, so don’t be afraid to reach out. 

We’re here to help you face the relationship challenges you and your partner may be facing due to childhood cancer.

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