Angelina Jolie made news this week when she wrote a New York Times op-ed piece announcing that she'd had an elective double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to dramatically reduce her risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Jolie lost her mother to ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56. Jolie, herself now 37 and the mother of six children, decided with her doctors to go through with the dramatic procedure after testing positive for BRCA1 gene, which can indicate a high risk for the diseases.
It isn't surprising that everyone is talking about what Angelina did, and how much courage she showed to put health first, and then talk so openly about it. But something else became clear, too. With her decision to go public came the acknowledgement of her rock-solid support system. In the Times piece she wrote, "I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive." She mentioned that he was present for all of her medical procedures and surgeries at the Pink Lotus Breast Center. He has, in turn, recently called her decision to have the radical procedure and be public about it, "absolutely heroic."
While it seems that Brad agreed with Angelina's choice, that isn't always the case. Sometimes a spouse or partner has a harder time accepting the other's decision to have a procedure whether it be preventative, corrective, or plastic surgery. They might feel the timing isn't right, or the surgery isn't necessary. But in order to be supportive and give unconditional love, they might have to put their own needs and judgments aside the way Brad has clearly done.
That might require some work on your part, if you are the one offering the support. Being there for your partner not only means in a hands-on physical way, but also an emotional one. There is no question that this sort of thing can be very disruptive. Say, for example, that you both usually share the responsibilities of the household - you take out the trash and walk the dog, and he or she cooks and gets the kids off to school. Now, as your partner recovers, it is likely that all those tasks might fall to you. On an emotional level, the person who had the surgery might be irritable, upset, short-tempered and, at times, reactive and even lash out at you. If you can remember that your partner may be feeling vulnerable, helpless and out of control, it might help you understand where they are coming from, and then you won't take it personally and get into arguments with them. Realizing that their distress doesn't stem from you can go a long way in helping you navigate the terrain of a caregiver and help you remain supportive throughout.
Know as you are going through it that the upheaval and distress will be time-limited and your recovering partner will get better. Things will go back to normal at some point - hopefully soon. Remind yourself that, in the end, this will be better for everyone. Remaining positive during the recovery period will be good for both of you and get you through it with greater ease. Brad's words and support are an excellent example of what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation. The superstar couple seems to have their priorities in place as they do what they must to build a long and healthy life together. With that goal in mind, being supportive is easier.
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