The diagnosis of a serious illness hits you and your loved ones like a fist to your heart. Shock and denial are a common initial response. Then the reality sinks in. There are going to be more tests, many more. Surgery could be part of the process as well.
For some, the doctor is reassuring: "You will be just fine." For others, the prognosis is much scarier. To have to deal with serious illness when you are all alone is extremely difficult. If you have loving people around you, they are a blessing to be counted.
The first few months are the most frightening; with new doctors, procedures, and words you've never heard before. Hopefully, medical insurance will cover the bulk of the costs, but it's still a strain. With bills piling up and reimbursements taking months, the financial stress can be daunting, and it doesn't help the healing process. Not being strong enough to go to work or to care for your family also takes its toll.
By this time you're immersed in the process with your loved one, emotionally sharing all of the lows and looking, waiting, and praying for the highs. All you really want right now is a little good news. Sometimes the best you can do is to just get through the day without additional problems.
Being the support person is a role that you may not have ever considered signing up for. The emotional fallout can affect a loving mate almost as much as the patient. Some take to it easily. Others find it difficult to adapt to this new role. It can be helpful to remind yourself that, at this time, you are needed more than ever.
There will be moments when the person you care for will not be able to do much for him- or herself and other "good days" when it's almost as though life were back to normal. It's a roller coaster, but you may well find that you become closer than you have ever been. You can also experience that your conversations get deeper and your love grows. It is amazing how serious illness can make our connections stronger. It may be the only good part of this difficult journey.
Additional help is available from the American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org) and the American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org). Both have tons of information for your family as well as many other groups for almost every ailment. Organizations such as The Wellness Community (http://www.thewellnesscommunity.org) also have research and computer libraries, where you can get many of your questions answered as well as find counselors and support.
Research shows that having a loved one by your side may not make it all better, but it can give you the strength you need to truly heal.