How to Support a Spouse or Partner Who Has Breast Cancer

Tips on How Partners Can Help Loved Ones With Breast Cancer

A diagnosis of breast cancer can be overwhelming for any relationship, but especially for a spouse or partner. With this scary diagnosis, partners play an important role in supporting patients with breast cancer. Studies have shown that survival may be better for those with good social support.

Breast cancer can require many different treatments that can cause body image issues, mood changes, and intense side effects from chemotherapy or radiation. Treatment for breast cancer leaves most patients feeling tired and in need of extra support.

At the same time, as your loved one is going through all of these changes and challenges, it is highly likely you may wonder how you can support them. Let's take a look at some ways you can best support your partner as they navigate their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Emotional Support

couple supporting each other

Rob and Julia Campbell / Stocksy United

A cancer diagnosis can be emotionally exhausting. As your partner moves through the stages of dealing with cancer, they will work through several emotions. There are ways that you can provide emotional support as you both navigate these complex emotions. 

  • Acknowledge any feelings that arise. The first step in managing emotions is acknowledgment. Once your partner expresses a feeling, you can provide emotional validation to help your partner feel understood and supported. It's important to recognize and normalize feelings, not invalidate them or talk your partner out of emotions.
  • Manage emotions. As you talk through emotions with your partner, remember that acknowledging emotions will not make the feelings go away. Consider seeing a therapist, together or separate, to help manage challenging emotions and to receive support from a neutral party trained in these difficult scenarios.

Positive and Negative Emotions

As your partner progresses through the diagnosis of breast cancer and treatment, there will inevitably be a range of emotions both positive and negative. These feelings could be hope, gratitude, shock, anger, denial, sadness, anxiety, or any other number of emotions.

Remember that you may also experience emotional stress through this process. Take time to navigate your collective emotions together.

Physical Care

Depending on the type of therapy your partner receives, they may need support with physical care before, during, or after treatment.

Before treatment, you can talk with your partner’s doctor to understand all pre-operative instructions. These could include:

  • Not eating or drinking after midnight before surgery
  • Eating healthier and exercising more
  • Stopping smoking or avoiding alcohol
  • Required pre-surgical testing, imaging, or procedures

During and after treatment, you may need to:

  • Learn how to take care of a surgical wound (if your partner had surgery).
  • Understand what to watch for (like an infection) that requires immediate care.
  • Take steps to manage treatment side effects, such as nausea after chemotherapy or fatigue caused by hormone therapies.
  • Help with basic physical tasks, such as bathing or grooming, as your partner recovers.

Wellness

Staying as healthy as possible is important for both you and your partner, whether you’re preparing for treatment or recovering from it. Take these steps to keep your body strong during your breast cancer journey together:

  • Choose nutritious food. This may not be easy to do when you or your partner are stressed, fatigued, or nauseated from chemotherapy. Taking time to prepare nutrient-dense small meals in advance or arranging a meal train with the assistance of friends can be extremely beneficial when feeling overwhelmed.
  • Exercise. After cancer treatment, your partner may not feel like walking or exercising. When your partner is cleared for physical activity, one of the best things you can do is take an active role in helping them in this return to exercise and physical activity.

Open Communication

Cancer impacts all facets of life, not just health, and having someone to talk to is critical. While it's helpful to keep a positive attitude, research has shown that it's important to also express the negative emotions that come with cancer.

Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Allowing them to share their feelings and fears with you can support their emotional health and help you work together through the process.

As feelings run strong, there will be times when you and your partner experience a myriad of emotions. Providing support to your partner during these times is critical.

Remember, sometimes not saying anything is better than saying the wrong thing. Your actions show that you care when you can't find the right words to say.

Keeping Up the Household

Life goes on, even during cancer treatment. If your partner traditionally manages the household, you may need to develop plans to help keep your home in order while you and your partner deal with cancer treatment.

Things to consider include childcare, grocery shopping and meals, house cleaning, and how you will work with your spouse’s employer (or your own) while you cope with cancer.

Financial Help

Unfortunately, financial stress is an important consideration. Be sure to talk with your partner about insurance needs and your current financial situation.

If your partner manages your monthly bills, it’s important to communicate about household finances so you can manage them if necessary while your partner undergoes treatment.

Planning a budget—including making a plan for emergency funds should you need them—is an important step in this process. Having financial peace of mind will give your partner one less thing to worry about as they focus on their health.

Treatment Planning

Though partners will take many roles in helping a loved one navigate cancer diagnosis and treatment, being an advocate is one of the most important.

Being a strong advocate means many things, including:

  • Learning about your partner’s cancer and asking questions regarding treatments and next steps
  • Taking notes during medical appointments
  • Staying organized with paperwork, such as bills, prescriptions, lab reports, and more
  • Keeping a calendar of appointments, tracking medication, and maintaining contact with the care team
  • Acting in your partner’s best interest and ensuring they get the care they want and need
  • Following up with doctors and other providers as needed
  • Encouraging your partner to be their own advocate and take an active approach to their care

Caring for Yourself

It’s easy to feel alone as a primary caregiver to someone with cancer. As you work to support your partner, don’t forget to take time to care for yourself as well. In addition to the tips above (which will also work for you), here are other ways to care for yourself during the cancer journey:

  • Remember that you’re not alone. Seek support from friends and relatives. Not all of them may step up to assist, but you will be surprised at what some people will do if you ask. Seek their help in driving to appointments, staying with your partner while you're at work, or doing errands you ordinarily do but don't have time for anymore.
  • Manage your reactions. Everyone has a different response towards learning of someone's cancer diagnosis. Some people will avoid the situation, cry, appear angry, or ignore the situation altogether. You can't control their reactions, but you can control your reactions to them.

A Word From Verywell

If your partner has been diagnosed with breast cancer, your role cannot be understated. Some male partners may think that they aren't as important as close friends, but their role is critical to their spouse’s recovery.

At the same time, don't forget to take care of yourself. Remember what flight attendants tell us when boarding a flight? Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I help my wife who has breast cancer?

    Marriage has shown better survival rates for married women with cancer than unmarried women. Having a partner available to shoulder burdens, provide emotional support, and financially contribute throughout treatment are some of the important ways a spouse can help.

  • Can my wife have children after breast cancer treatment?

    Chemotherapy can damage a woman’s ovaries and may cause infertility. Pregnancy rates for premenopausal women following breast cancer are relatively low. Women considering having a baby after cancer treatment should bring up fertility concerns with their doctor before undergoing treatment. There are options for increasing pregnancy odds depending on the situation.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chou AF, Stewart SL, Wild RC, Bloom JR. Social support and survival in young women with breast carcinomaPsychooncology. 2012;21(2):125–133. doi:10.1002/pon.1863

  2. Zhai Z, Zhang F, Zheng Y, et al. Effects of marital status on breast cancer survival by age, race, and hormone receptor status: A population-based Study. Cancer Med. 2019;8(10):4906-4917. doi:10.1002/cam4.2352

  3. Peate M, Stafford L, Hickey M. Fertility after breast cancer and strategies to help women achieve pregnancy. Cancer Forum. 2017;41(1):32-39.

Additional Reading

By Blyss Splane
Blyss Splane is a certified operating room nurse working as a freelance content writer and former travel nurse. She works as a freelance content writer for healthcare blogs when she's not spending time with her husband and dog.

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
Learn about our editorial process