It is absolutely vital that you accompany her to every consultation with the doctors and other health professionals. That may sound strange with a female disease but, believe me, it is most important. I was fortunate that, as I had my own business there was little difficulty in taking time off work. If this is not your situation you will need to try to change your work arrangements, in which case you need to make it clear to your colleagues that ‘we’ have an appointment regarding ‘our’ cancer.
There are a number of reasons why this is so important -
- there will be a lot of information coming over from the doctors, and one person cannot take it all in. If they say something which comes as a shock your wife may switch off from listening for the next few minutes. Doctors, like all of us, vary in their ability to communicate.
- going for an appointment can be a nerve wracking business - better to share it and support her.
- you and your wife must talk about the disease together, so you both need to be aware of what the doctors are saying, and to pick up their unspoken signs. You can reinforce encouraging things that the doctors may have said.
- you may have questions which she has not thought of, or she may be too shy to ask. With some professionals you may have to be a bit ‘pushy’ to get information, which may come easier for you than her.
- as some treatments progress she is likely to become tired, and not able to think as clearly, so you may need to give clear answers to some of the questions you will get from the doctors and nurses.
- it can be lonely lying in a room for a morning having a chemotherapy infusion. The staff will be busy, so she won’t want to ring the bell for a cup of tea, or to have the window opened. You can do that and, rather than ring the bell, it is nicer for all concerned if you can wander down the corridor and make a gentle enquiry as to whether she has been forgotten. In fact just seeing you coming may remind a busy nurse that she should have looked in on you.
You are more than a chauffeur driving your wife to the hospital - you are part of the treatment team. After my wife died a number of the staff confirmed that it had been good that I had always been there during consultations and treatment. In all the vast number of appointments, there was only one occasion when there was surprise that I asked to come into the room, but the physiotherapist involved agreed after just a moment’s hesitation.
The other side of the coin is that you will lose a lot of time for work or other activities. When the chemo programme was involving a day a week at the hospital I had to cut down on other things. It is also surprisingly tiring, although it appears that you are just sitting in a room, perhaps doing a little work on a laptop. (As there was no wireless network at the hospital, I used a Vodaphone mobile broadband connector on my laptop, so that I could at least keep on top of e-mail traffic.)
After writing this page, I have heard from a couple of ladies that they preferred to go to appointments without their husbands. The reason they gave was that their men were not able to handle the situation, and so the patient ended up having to give them support - an extra task which they did not need.