How To Be There For Your Partner As They Go Through Cancer Treatments

Living through the news of a cancer diagnosis is one of the most devastating events a couple can walk through, and it shifts the entirety of daily life and calls for a new level of strength, support, and care. And though the tribulations are undoubtedly some of the toughest to face, fighting cancer can bring a couple closer together, via Cleveland Clinic


The good news is, if you're in a committed relationship, you likely already have some of the tools needed to support your partner through cancer treatments. Communication, romance, patience, and additional sources of connection will all continue to be as important as they were in your pre-cancer relationship, per War On Cancer. Being a caregiver to a loved one facing a life-threatening illness will require you to also care for yourself in ways you may not have had to in the past. There will be a learning curve for all involved. Here's a closer look into how to be there for your partner as they go through cancer treatments.

Practice conscious communication

You've likely heard that healthy communication is the ultimate key to a successful relationship. This holds even more true when facing a life-changing event like cancer. As a partner of someone dealing with cancer treatments, it's important to be open, direct, and sensitive when asking what they need and sharing your own needs. "Agreeing at the beginning to communicate openly sets the stage for both of you to feel more comfortable sharing your feelings in the future," said cancer care nurse Josette Snyder, APRN, MSN, AOCN, in an interview with Cleveland Clinic. "Don't be afraid to show your feelings. Communicate that you are scared as well." 


Using "I" statements and listening to understand, without judgment or defensiveness, is the gentle approach your partner likely needs, via War On Cancer. And remember, part of this process will be surrender. The side effects of cancer treatments, like nausea and energy depletion, can be difficult to watch, and sometimes, there won't be anything you can do as a partner — other than hold space for your loved one and accept what's happening. 

Expand your system of support

As you step into the caretaker role during your partner's cancer treatments, it'll become increasingly important to have a support network, via CancerCenter. When friends and family ask to help, let them step in and take on some of the duties, whether driving your partner to appointments, cooking meals, or doing laundry. Learning about your partner's cancer and the course of treatment can be a full-time job in and of itself. Allow others to jump in there too. It will likely feel like an all-hands-on-deck situation, and you shouldn't face it alone. 


"Your spouse will undergo a steep learning curve after a cancer diagnosis," said cancer care nurse Josette Snyder, APRN, MSN, AOCN, in an interview with Cleveland Clinic. "You can help by learning all you can about the disease and its treatment. Plus, you also can seek advice from others who have gone through the same thing. If you have young children, find resources to help you communicate with them."

Self care and speaking to a therapist

While communicating with your partner facing cancer is essential, it would serve you both well if you also have a safe space to let out all your feelings about this huge life event without feeling like you might burden your already sick partner even further, according to CancerCenter. More specifically, finding a therapist who has experience counseling families through cancer might prove even more helpful. You may even gain insight into how to listen to your partner as your therapist listens to you. There will naturally be a lot of challenging emotions to wade through. "Let them experience and articulate whatever emotion they may feel, even if it's screaming, crying or pounding on the walls," said cancer care nurse Josette Snyder, APRN, MSN, AOCN, in an interview with Cleveland Clinic. "Resist the thought that their emotions are aimed at you."


In addition to therapy, you and your partner should strive to maintain your interests, hobbies, and friendships outside the relationship. Shifting the heaviness of the situation and staying tethered to the things you love is healthy for the spirit. This, of course, shouldn't feel like another item to check off the to-do list though. Let true joy in the face of a heartbreaking situation be the ultimate goal.

Nurture the romance in your relationship

Romance might be the last thing on either of your minds, which is understandable, but finding ways to show love and intimacy is what your partner likely needs. Watching a movie together, holding hands, going on a short walk, writing love notes; the little things will go a long way, per War On Cancer. And remember, your definition of romance may need to shift as the circumstances and roles of the relationship evolve. 


"It takes a conscious effort to figure out what's right for each couple because intimacy doesn't have to be intercourse," said Mary Dev, a licensed clinical social worker, and counselor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in an interview with CureToday. "It can be talking about something that is near and dear to you and having that deep connection. It's building trust to have a safe space to have that intimacy."

Find other couples who have been through cancer

While the most well-meaning friends and family will want to show their support for you and your partner facing cancer treatments, there's nothing quite like talking to someone who has been there. With the vast avenues of online support groups available today, finding a couple who has been down the road you're walking should be easy to do, via CancerCenter. Every question and concern you have, they likely have too, and the budding friendship has the potential to be a guiding light for all involved. 


Even if there isn't much that can be done to give your partner relief through the pain and discomfort of treatment, knowing others have made it through to the other side of cancer can give you the boost of hope you both need. You don't have to grapple with loneliness, isolation, and fear. Cancercare offers many online support group options for those helping a loved one through cancer treatments. Social media is another surefire way to find the connection and support you and your partner will need.