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Your Wife Has Cancer, Now What? Laundry and Shopping and Cooking—Oh My!

When your wife has cancer, she may need assistance with  many household chores. These  may be totally foreign to you. You might handle the garbage, mow the lawn, repair household items, maintain the cars, or whip up some soup once in a while . . . but she likely handles most of the cooking, dishes, laundry, shopping, ironing, sewing, vacuuming, dusting, pets, planting, etc. Your wife’s day can involve so much more than you realize.

The majority of husbands I know are the main breadwinners of their family and help with chores as best they can, but their wives still have more responsibility running the home.


Domestic Torch

If you were living the dream of coming home from work with a warm, cooked meal on the table, your wife refreshed and all dressed up to greet you, the children well-behaved and eager to show you their latest honorary science projects, then get ready because things are about to change. The domestic torch is about to be passed onto you!

Think about what we have discussed so far.

After most surgeries, your wife will need time to recuperate and will be instructed not to lift much of anything. She will be told to ease back into general household duties. I can’t count how many doctors and nurses told us that my wife could not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for two to three weeks after every surgery. Almost everything weighs more than a gallon of milk!

During chemotherapy, your wife will not have the energy to do the most basic chores for days or even weeks. Getting up from the bed to the bathroom will require all the strength she has. The smells of everything around the house will most likely set her off, which will really limit her ability to monitor the shape of things.

Even radiation can throw your wife’s days out of rhythm, because her treatments will most likely be during the middle of the day and fatigue can set in soon after.

The fact I’m trying to stress is that you will be responsible for creating new household routines for yourself and your children, while your wife deals with getting well. You will have to do all of this and still maintain your employment demands. Don’t wait until the torch is given to you. Get some training from your wife on how to man the household battle stations.

As soon as your wife is diagnosed, and you know what treatments she will need, sit down and make a list of the things she does every day and how often. Use another calendar to track the days she does certain chores. Can you tell I’m a big proponent of calendars?


The Dreaded Chores

I have yet to meet a man that likes to do the following, so I wanted to mention these as they might be ones you haven’t had to tackle for a while.


You’ll be surprised at how quickly the laundry can stack up after only a few days. My wife, for short stretches during her treatments, did not have the energy to sort the laundry, haul it to the washer, then the dryer, iron it, and put it away. Your wife will need to train you on HER way of doing it, because if it is done wrong, she might insist on doing it herself. My wife felt guilty at first that I had to do one of her main duties and was struggling to get the hang of it. But, as long as you have the right attitude in taking it over, she will feel better about allowing you to.

Here are some laundry tips:

·        Don’t try to cheat and wash everything in cold water, thinking colors won’t bleed. This might have worked for you in college, but if she sees articles of different colors going in at the same time, no matter how cold you say the water is, your plan will be shot down.

·        If she does allow you to mix colors, be wary of new clothes, as they need to be washed a few times with similar colors before you can combine them and cut corners.

·        Make sure whites are washed by themselves, no matter what, as sometimes cold water is not cold enough and other colors will bleed. Better safe than sorry in this situation.

·        If you have items in the dryer that will wrinkle, stay within buzzer distance and as soon as you hear it, go hang up the clothes so you do not have to iron them. You can always put them back in the dryer with a wetted washcloth if you forget, but anything is better than ironing. Save yourself some burns.

·        Teach your children to do the sniff test with their clothes and if it doesn’t stink, have them wear it again. I know that sounds harsh. Maybe it’s the difference between husbands and wives, but I was surprised how quickly my children would go through wardrobe changes every day. This taught them that having their laundry done for them is a privilege and not a right.

·        Make sure not to wash anything that says, “Dry Clean Only”. Double-check your wife’s or daughter’s clothing because they seem to have more of these items than males do. Leave hand washing to grandma!


Clothes Shopping

If your children need clothes, wait until your wife is well enough to go with them or send them with a family member or friend that likes to shop. They will know what they are doing. Do not try to figure out what is cool for your children…especially your daughters. Hopefully, you or your wife will have someone you trust to help out with the clothes shopping.

If you are going to tackle clothes shopping, make sure you have their sizes written down on those profiles I mentioned earlier and make a list of things they need. I made the mistake of going without a list. I came back with a bunch of items on sale that no one would wear, so I wasted a lot of time with returns. Remember, a sale is worthless if they don’t need it or won’t wear it! Clothes shopping takes planning, so the more help you get the better.



When your wife goes through her nausea phases of treatment, you will need to be the one that plans and cooks the meals. You will either be doing this for your family or yourself. Most husbands have a few dinners we can throw together, but we haven’t had to do it consistently for an extended period of time. If you end up making the same menu over and over again, you and your children will get burned out. Some of us might be able to live off ramen noodles, like we did in college, but your children won’t.

On the flip side, if you give up cooking and try the fast food route every night, it will get old. You need to maintain a variety of home-cooked meals (with the occasional trip to McDonalds to make the children happy) to be sure you are eating the way you should.

If your wife is having treatments during the summer or days when your children are out of school, you need to become adept at preparing a wide variety of meals that cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This will be stressful for you at first, but you will get the hang of it with proper planning.

Sit down and lay out a few weeks’ worth of meals with your wife and list all of the staples necessary. If you do this, you can use this list again and again without the children noticing the same meal patterns. They won’t mind tacos every three weeks but they will mind them every Wednesday. Make sure to space time between ethnic foods as well. You might be able to handle Italian every night, but your kids will get pasta overload. If you rotate potatoes, rice, and pasta you will have enough varieties of some pretty cheap staples.


Grocery Shopping

Most husbands are familiar with the magazine section, pharmacy, and automotive areas of a grocery store, but we get lost if we have to find gravy mix or taco seasoning. Make sure you get to know your local supermarket. Spend a little time and see how it is laid out. Learn to get the non-perishable items first, then the refrigerated and frozen items last. It’s sad to get home with two pounds of warm meat you don’t dare eat.

When shopping, make sure you bring a shopping list. Do not try to do it by memory. Trust me…you will not remember everything.

Resist the urge to buy chips, soft drinks, and doughnuts. You’re trying to cultivate good nutrition and when your wife is ready to eat, she will need healthy choices.


High Fiber & Anti-Oxidant Diet

A diet high in fiber and anti-oxidants is recommended. These foods include anything with a high content of bran, brown or wild rice, whole wheat bread, pasta, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, corn, asparagus, spinach, apricots, strawberries, apples, blueberries, cantaloupe and oranges.

Make sure you familiarize yourself with some of the nutritional studies that have been done for a full list of these foods. You might be surprised how much you and your family will learn to like them—with a little encouragement (although a small bag of Cheetos won’t hurt once in a while)!


It’s All in the Attitude

As with most things in life, the right attitude can make all the difference. If you are positive and learn to embrace these additional “opportunities”, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish. The knowledge of how to tackle these domestic duties can only help you move forward.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” —Thomas Jefferson



Carson Boss is the author of Your Wife Has Cancer, Now What? publishing May 2013 from Familius. 


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