The Cancer Spouse

Season 17
Episode 1710

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, and this diagnosis not only brings physical challenges, but significant emotional and psychological challenges, as well. It is something no one wants to face alone. The spouse of the cancer patient feels the impact of the diagnosisand their support can be crucial to recovery. The couple goes through cancer together. This episode takes on the topic of “The Cancer Spouse.” 

The following information is courtesy of: National Cancer Institute

Facing Cancer with Your Spouse or Partner

Your spouse or partner may feel just as scared by your cancer as you do. You both may feel anxious, helpless, or afraid. You may even find it hard to be taken care of by someone you love.

Some relationships get stronger during cancer treatment. Others are weakened. Nearly all couples feel more stress than usual when cancer occurs. They often feel stress about:

  • Knowing how to best support each other and how to communicate
  • Dealing with new feelings that come up
  • Making decisions
  • Juggling lots of roles (such as childcare, housekeeping, work, and caregiving)
  • Changing their social life
  • Changing their daily routine
  • Not feeling connected sexually

It helps to know that people express their emotions in different ways. Some like to talk things out or focus on other people. Others like to focus inward by doing things, such as washing the dishes or fixing things around the house. These differences can cause tension because each person may expect the other to act the way they would in their place. To reduce stress, it may help to remind yourself that everyone reacts differently. But if you don’t feel like your communication needs are being met, you may want to seek help from a counselor or social worker.

Ways to Improve Communication

Some couples find it easier to talk about serious issues than other couples. Only you and your partner know how you feel about this. The sections below may help you think about ways to communicate that work for both of you.

Share the Decisions

Including your spouse or partner in treatment decisions is important. Together you can meet with your doctor and learn about common symptoms, your treatment choices, and their side effects. This will help you plan for the upcoming weeks and months.

Help Each Other

Everyone needs to feel needed and loved. You may have always been the “strong one” in your family, but now is the time to let your loved one help you. This can be as simple as letting the other person fluff your pillow, bring you a cool drink, or read to you. And in turn, make sure you help your partner. You can simply express gratitude and let them know you understand it’s a tough time for them too.

Be Open about Stress

Some things that cause stress for you and your partner can’t be solved right now. And yet sometimes talking about these things can be helpful. Look at the issues that bother you such as dealing with the unknown or feeling a strain between you. You may want to say up front, “I know we can’t solve this today. But I’d like to just talk about how it’s going and how we’re feeling.” Getting things out into the open may help you both.

Be a Team

You and your partner may need to be a team now more than ever. It may help to think things through together. Talk about what decisions you should make together and which ones you should make alone. You may want to decide what tasks to share and if other people in your life could help with them.

Make Dates

Many couples find that it helps to plan special occasions. Some days may end up being better than others, depending on how your partner feels. So you may need to be okay with last-minute changes.

Your dates don’t have to be fancy. It’s about spending time together. That can mean renting a movie, going out to eat or for an event, or looking through old photos. It can be whatever you both like to do. You can also plan these dates to include other people, if you miss being around others.


National Cancer Institute
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. Our team of approximately 3,500 is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of 11 agencies that make up the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). NCI is deeply committed to the core values of equity, diversity, and inclusion that allow all staff to reach their potential and fully contribute to the Institute’s cancer mission.
Stanford Medicine
A leader in the biomedical revolution, Stanford Medicine has a long tradition of leadership in pioneering research, creative teaching protocols and effective clinical therapies. Our close proximity to the resources of the university — including the Schools of Business, Law, Humanities and Sciences, and Engineering, our seamless relationship with our affiliated adult and children’s hospitals, and our ongoing associations with the entrepreneurial endeavors of Silicon Valley, make us uniquely positioned to accelerate the pace at which new knowledge is translated into tangible health benefits.
Founded in 1944, CancerCare is the leading national organization providing free, professional support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer.
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