Most couples, when they take their marriage vows, include those familiar lines, “In sickness and in health, until death do us part.” They’ve been part of the traditional marriage ceremony likely for centuries and the most dedicated of couples take those words very seriously.
But it’s hard to understand just what those words mean until the husband or wife becomes ill. And when it’s a serious illness, like mesothelioma, the tasks involved in keeping that vow are difficult and often overwhelming.
Sadly, many elderly couples find themselves facing an asbestos cancer battle today because of the rampant use of asbestos years ago in places like shipyards, factories, steel mills, and many other workplaces. (Mostly) men who were once healthy and robust are now facing their later years stifled by a diagnosis that often means a quick and painful death.
The diagnosis of such a debilitating illness results in many changes for the couple that has lived life together for many years. These are changes that will feel strange and unusual, in most instances, but for those who truly love each other, it doesn’t matter. Life goes on, albeit differently.
- Often, spouses find themselves changing roles. The man, likely the long-time breadwinner, often becomes the one who must be cared for, both physically and financially. If the patient was still working at the time of diagnosis, he may have to leave his job and the spouse may have to obtain a job or increase working hours in order to pick up the slack, so to speak. Obviously, this can be reversed as well, if the wife is the victim and is losing an income due to the illness.
- Caregiving will fall into the lap of the healthy spouse, and even if the female half of the pair is used to being the mesothelioma caregiver, the overwhelming responsibilities of caring for the patient can cause stress, frustration, depression, and more. It’s caregiving at a whole new level. If the man suddenly becomes the caregiver – especially an older man who’s not accustomed to this role – the change in family dynamic can be drastic. He must not only learn to care for a sick spouse but, often, must also assume other household tasks that have never been his responsibility, like food shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and more. To many men from older generations, these responsibilities are quite foreign and take some acclimating.
- Couples who are dealing with a mesothelioma diagnosis also find that they can no longer simply depend on just each other. Usually, the spouse left in the role of caregiver cannot rely on the sick individual for emotional or physical support but must look outside of the marriage. Many couples don’t, which is why they become so overwhelmed. It’s important for grown children, grandchildren, and friends to offer both a helping hand with physical tasks and a shoulder to lean on for combating emotional distress. Seeking help doesn’t mean that the spouses love each other less; it just means that, sometimes, love needs to come from other sources, too.