- A cancer diagnosis is hard for your partner, but it can be hard for you too
- Being open about how you’re both feeling helps you connect openly and honestly with each other
- Your partner might be worried about their appearance changing, sex, their fertility, or you growing apart. It’s always good to talk about these issues and get support if you need
- You can help your partner by spending time with them, talking about normal stuff, asking what they need, and trying not to smother them too much
- Looking for info online is a great idea, but make sure what you’re reading is trustworthy.
Dealing with cancer as a couple
When you got together with your partner, dealing with cancer was probably the last thing on your mind.
It’s a really tough situation for both of you, and you’re probably feeling a lot of the same things – scared, upset, confused, angry.
As time passes, you’ll both have good days and bad days, and you might find this experience brings you closer or sometimes makes things harder.
But it’s really important not to hide your feelings – because being honest can help both of you understand what you’re going through.
The basic facts about cancer
There’s a lot of info on this site about different types of cancers and different treatments. But if you’ve just found out your partner has cancer, you might want to start with the basics.
- Cancer is a disease of the cells, so right now some of your partner’s cells aren’t acting normally
- The cause of most cancers is unknown – and your partner hasn’t done anything to cause cancer
- Sometimes cancer can be cured, and cancer treatments are getting better all the time
- Some of the treatments do have side effects – things like losing your hair, feeling tired all the time, being sick and changes in weight
- Treatment can last between a few months and a few years
- You can’t catch cancer from other people
- Always use a condom if you’re having sex with someone on chemotherapy, as the drugs used can be passed onto you during sex (including oral sex). You also need to avoid pregnancy at this time.
Common worries your partner might have
Understanding the things your partner might be worried about can help you support them. Hopefully they’ll feel able to talk to you about what they’re thinking. But it might be helpful to know that some common worries are:
- Being a burden. People often worry that they’ve become a hassle to their partners when they’re diagnosed with cancer. It’s important to try and talk about issues like this, and to let your partner know how you really feel.
- Looking different. Cancer treatments can change the way people look, and that can have a big impact on how they feel mentally. Supporting your partner through this can really help to keep their confidence up.
- Sexual problems. Sex might be the last thing on your partner’s mind during cancer treatment, or having sex might be difficult in comparison to before. A change in your sexual relationship can be hard for both of you. Have a chat with your partner about how they’re feeling and what they feel comfortable with.
- Fertility problems. Some treatments can affect your chances of having kids. If this is something that you think you might want, either soon or at any point in the future, it’s a good idea for both of you to talk to a doctor or clinical nurse specialist. You can read more about this on our fertility page.
- Growing apart. People often worry that their partners will lose interest in them once they’ve been diagnosed with cancer – which is another reason to talk honestly with each other about how you’re feeling.
How you can help your partner
You probably want to help your partner but might not know how. That’s totally normal. You can always ask them if there’s anything they need, although it can be tough to ask for help, so try to be patient if they sometimes get annoyed.
And you can try and do a few of these simple things too:
- Talk openly. Hiding emotions can push people apart. So try to talk honestly about your feelings, without criticising or blaming each other.
- Plan time to be together. Arrange time to do what you love and to enjoy each other’s company.
- Talk about normal stuff. Neither of you will want to talk about cancer the whole time, so make sure you chat about whatever you used to chat about, too.
- Try not to smother them. It’s easy to get overprotective when someone you like or love has cancer, but try to give your partner space. It can be frustrating to feel like you’re losing your independence.
- Laugh and cry. It’s OK to be happy and sad – so don’t feel guilty about either of these emotions.
- Wash your hands. Your partner might be more likely to catch infections during cancer treatment – and washing your hands reduces the risk of infection spreading.
Beware of searching the internet
Finding out more about cancer can be a really good idea. It means you know more about what to expect and about what your partner is going through.
But before you open your phone and search the internet, remember to click carefully. There’s a lot of good information out there, but there are also plenty of scary stories and inaccurate info, and it’s not always easy to know where to go for the information that will help you and your partner.
All of the people who are caring for your partner will be happy to recommend sites you can trust. We’ve included useful links throughout this site too. And remember that everyone’s cancer is different – so the best way to find out what’s really going on is to speak to your partner and their care team.
If you drift apart
Sometimes relationships change. You’ll already know that – it’s not like it only happens when someone has cancer.
So while cancer can sometimes bring people closer, it can mean some people drift apart too. It can put a lot of pressure on a relationship, and you might not feel able to cope with that right now.
You might find you don’t quite look at the world in the same way as each other now. Or it might just be that your relationship wasn’t really working out before the cancer diagnosis.
So if you do find yourselves drifting apart, remember that it’s a normal part of life. It’s sad and difficult, but it’s nobody’s fault.
Who to talk to
It’s always good to talk to someone and share your thoughts and feelings. If you have someone in your family or a friend that you trust, maybe you could talk to them about any worries that you might have.
Your partner’s support staff in the hospital would also be happy to talk to you and also tell you about other support organisations near you. They may also be able to refer you for more support, for example a counsellor, who will be able to help.