February 11, 2015 | by Nicole White
Even the most loving and secure relationship can be rattled by a life-threatening illness.
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, research shows one of the most important factors in helping her cope is having a supportive partner. But that partner can struggle with knowing what to say or how to best support their loved one.
Through research and clinical experience with breast cancer and relationships, City of Hope has found that specific skills and behaviors can help a couple grow closer despite the stress of cancer. That’s why City of Hope created the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program, which is solely funded by private donations.
“We are the only program of our kind,” said Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., a social worker in the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and head of the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program. “We make this support and counseling a standard part of the care. We normalize it, and take away the stigma. Even the healthiest of couples can struggle – it’s not only couples who were already having difficulties who struggle with a cancer diagnosis."
The program is designed to help women and their partners identify problems that are most important to them as part of their overall medical care. The counseling starts with the very first visit, then couples may continue to seek support through the program. The goal is for the program to be replicated at other cancer centers throughout the country, Bitz said.
Together, Bitz and Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., the Liliane Elkins Endowed Professor in Supportive Care Programs and executive director of supportive care medicine at City of Hope, lead the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program for women being treated for breast cancer at City of Hope, along with their partners.
The program helps couples build a framework for good communication and problem-solving early in the treatment process, when it's needed the most. The therapy begins with an introductory 30-minute session to help the patient and her partner share information that will enable them to support each other and solve problems with one another, throughout treatment. The Couples Coping with Cancer Together program also offers ongoing counseling and support to couples throughout the continuum of care.
** Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.