How Do I Share My Cancer Diagnosis with My Spouse or Partner?
Open and honest communication is critical to success in any relationship. But it is even more essential when you have breast cancer. There will be practical and emotional concerns associated with every step in your journey. In addition, your husband or partner will experience a different but significant impact when you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Let’s start with the emotional concerns. Your significant other will worry that they may lose you. They may worry about your pain, suffering, and well-being. They will also be concerned about their ability to take over or arrange for everything you do every day. In many cases, the official confirmation of your diagnosis is no surprise. Spouses or partners frequently accompany their spouses to the doctor’s visit for the biopsy results. They should be involved in as many visits as possible to act as a second pair of eyes and ears and clearly understand your status and treatment plan. Most spouses/partners want to be supportive when possible. But many of us face that news alone.
To either tell your spouse/partner about your diagnosis or review the visit’s news, set aside some private, quiet time. It is best to have a conversation when your children are not around and there are no distractions. We also recommend you allow enough time for discussion, questions, and processing what you learned and its impacts on both of you and your relationship. We’ve learned from the men in our families that some men want to discuss things and feel they need to take charge or fix it. Other men want solitude to process the information. Acknowledge that you both have different processing and coping styles. Know your partner/spouse and allow time to process the news in their way.
As you move through your cancer journey, your needs change. Don’t be afraid to ask your significant other for what you need. Your partner/spouse may not know what you need or want. You may ask them to respond to phone calls from friends and family. Or you may be feeling tired and need help or someone to take over tasks like meal preparation, cleaning, or laundry. Please keep attuned to their level of stress and fatigue. There may be times that they need a break. Perhaps you can have a family member or a friend take over your spouse/partner’s responsibilities for a short time. A break can refresh them and help with coping with the next step in your treatment. They may enjoy a day out to a ball game or a visit to the local gym to relax and restore their mind and body.
Not only is communication important, but also intimacy and a sexual relationship. Our research and conversations with other survivors showed that those experiencing the side effects of chemo and radiation therapies had more concerns about their sexual relationship. It is challenging to feel and express sexuality when you are worried about losing your hair and suffering nausea and diarrhea. In addition, depending upon your age or treatment, you may experience post-menopausal symptoms, which can impact your sex drive. We suggest that you contact a therapist or sociologist who specializes in sexual relationships. They can arrange visits for you and your spouse/partner individually or jointly. Their advice will guide you through conversations and healing.
Continue to schedule one-on-one time with your spouse or significant other when you feel physically and emotionally up to it. The time you spend alone together is precious and so beneficial to maintaining a good relationship. You can express what you are feeling, answer each other’s questions, and understand your cancer situation. It will also give you time to talk about other things that help you feel “normal.”
Lesson: Open communication is critical when you have cancer. Communicating openly and consistently with your spouse/partner helps you maintain your relationship and strengthens it by allowing both of you to face your cancer as a team. Also, don’t forget to get help from other family members and friends, so your partner doesn’t get exhausted.
This blog is published with the permission of Peggie Sherry, co-author of Breast Cancer, Tips and Tricks from Two Survivors. To support their work, you can purchase a copy of their book here. Proceeds from the book sales support Faces of Courage, a cancer patient support non-profit organization dedicated to providing, free of charge, programs emphasizing practical education; life coping strategies; and improved self-esteem; through non-threatening, engaging, and recreational outings and overnight camps.
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