9 Ways to Support a Partner or Spouse With Breast Cancer

Tips on How Partners Can Help Loved Ones With Breast Cancer

If your spouse has been diagnosed with breast cancer, how can you provide the support he or she needs? (Remember that men can get breast cancer, too). Breast cancer, whether in a man or woman, affects people in so many ways. The treatment can cause body image changes, the hormonal treatments can make people....well... hormonal, and that doesn't even include all the changes that chemotherapy and radiation therapy bring.

Treatment for breast cancer leaves most patients feeling tired and more in need of support than ever. If you take a moment to think about how you feel when you are exhausted, then add these treatments to the mix, that's a bit of what your spouse is feeling. Before we even go into ways of supporting your spouse it's important to mention patience. Because he or she will need your patience.

At the same time as your spouse is going through all of these changes, you are likely feeling what so many partners feel: helpless. If you're someone who is accustomed to being a "do-er" you might not know where to begin. Let's take a look at some ways that you can best support your spouse based on what survivors and researchers alike have found. 

As a final quick note, however, never underestimate your role. Not only is it critical for your spouse's emotional well-being, but studies have shown that survival may be better for those with good social support. So let's get started. How can you support your loved one with breast cancer?

Encourage

couple supporting each other
Rob and Julia Campbell/Stocksy United

There will be times when you both feel like crying. Go ahead. But make sure you're the one handing out the hankies, not your patient. She needs an emotional anchor, and you're it whether you like it or not. Sometimes not saying anything is better than saying the wrong thing. But if you're there, advocating and organizing, your actions tell her that you care, even if you don't have the words to say it.

It's sometimes helpful to keep a positive attitude. But those who make insensitive comments such as "you need to stay positive to survive cancer," haven't read the research. It's even more that your loved one can express negative emotions with cancer. And as her (or his) partner, that's the best place.

Advocate

Though she may be a fighter by nature, a woman with breast cancer is often in no shape to battle hospital bureaucracies, insensitive doctors, thoughtless nurses, or anyone else, especially you. It's your job to take her side and ask the hard questions, pound the receptionist's desk when you're being ignored, and act in her best interests. Even the best medical care personnel get too busy or preoccupied. And when that happens, you need to act to make sure your patient gets the care she needs.

In your role as a spouse, you can also encourage her (or him) to be her own her own advocate in her cancer care. It makes a difference.

Organize

Maybe you're not a born organizer. But you can keep track of doctor's appointments, medications, prescriptions, hospital bills, test reports, and the hundreds of other pieces of paper that a typical treatment sequence for breast cancer generates. Not all of these papers are important, but you don't want to lose the ones that are. And your patient will be relieved not to have to keep track of them herself (or himself).

Act Normal

Act "normal" as much as possible. Cancer doesn't mean the world has to grind to a halt. If you and your partner have normal routines and things you enjoy doing, try to keep them up to the extent possible. But always be sensitive to physical fatigue, emotional stress, or other reasons for not doing things you used to do.

Be Honest

Most people today would rather hear the truth about their medical condition than a sweetened-up lie. This doesn't mean being needlessly cruel, however. When you both face the same facts together, whatever they are, you can act together and stay together through the treatment.

Ask Friends for Help

The two of you don't have to do it all by yourselves. Friends, neighbors, and relatives are there to be asked for help. Not all of them will, but you will be surprised at what some people will do if you just ask them. 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.

Expect Reactions

Everybody has a different attitude toward cancer. Some people will get up and run away if you try to tell them what's wrong with your partner. Others will cry, get angry, or ignore the whole situation. You can't control their reactions, but you can control your reactions to them.

Don't volunteer the information that your partner has cancer without a good reason. On the flip side, don't try to make it a deep dark secret either. And let the people you tell deal with it on their own terms.

Pray/Meditate

Whatever your spiritual beliefs, understand that those beliefs are a part of the situation too. You and your partner will need a lot of resources to win, more than you can muster up on your own. Don't neglect your spirituality in this fight. It can connect you with the source of your greatest strength.

A Word From Verywell

Your role as a partner or spouse cannot be understated. Some male partners have commented that they don't feel as important as girlfriends run to the scene. But don't belittle your role. As a partner your role is critical in your loved ones 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.