April 3, 2015 | by Nicole White
"Are we the only ones who feel this way?"
Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., a social worker in the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at City of Hope, often hears this question from couples trying to cope with a breast cancer diagnosis and still keep their relationship strong. The question isn't surprising. Because cancer increases stress and impacts many aspects of life, it doesn't affect only the person diagnosed. Rather, Bitz said, it affects their partner as well, sometimes leaving both feeling isolated.
No one understands that experience better than other cancer patients and their partners.
Knowing this, Bitz has started a support group for couples facing a breast cancer diagnosis, to help them better face the emotional and practical demands of a diagnosis and treatment regimen. Such a support group should be a role model for other institutions and other cancer programs.
"When facing the stressors of a cancer diagnosis, even the healthiest of couples can have a difficult time knowing what to say, what kind of comfort to provide and where to find help," Bitz said.
Further, although every person is unique, men and women often respond differently during times of stress, creating the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication. By better understanding each other, partners can better support one another.
The perspective of other couples can help create this understanding, making each partner in a relationship feel more connected and highlighting the normalcy of each person's experience.
Led by Bitz and Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., the Couples Coping with Cancer Together Program at City of Hope provides an opportunity for couples to speak honestly, openly and respectfully with one another in a safe and comfortable environment, with others who are going through a similar experience.
"Hearing what other couples say about what they were going through can put your own experience in perspective and help you see that you are not alone," Bitz said.
Bitz lists these four benefits of a support group for couples:
She also offers three pieces of advice for couples themselves, with the first one being: Come back to who you are as a couple.
Bitz and Loscalzo, the Liliane Elkins Endowed Professor in Supportive Care Programs, are both highly skilled at helping couples to work together when one or both have been diagnosed with cancer, and both understand that, ultimately, the cancer experience can be an opportunity to grow closer to one another. But that takes work and, sometimes, other couples.
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. 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.