The American Cancer Society reports that women have a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of developing breast cancer. Every year, spouses and partners take on the role of caregiver. Learning how to offer emotional and physical support to the woman you love is an opportunity to feel closer and be part of their treatment team.
When the one you love goes through breast cancer, it doesn’t just affect their life. It affects your life as well as your children’s lives. Being emotionally prepared to support them through possible surgery, chemotherapy, and body image ups and downs will help determine their attitude and ability to stay strong. I have five ways that will help you prepare for the unexpected.
Learn to listen and communicate with your partner’s deepest concerns. Knowing how to communicate with your partner after getting a breast cancer diagnosis is essential to being their support person. Most couples aren’t prepared and therefore letting them know you are there for them through all the treatment will lift many of their worries off their shoulder. It helps them feel less alone and scared if they know that they can tell you everything without judgment and that you will be there for them.
As much as possible, plan to attend their doctor and treatment appointments along with them. Attending doctor appointments and treatments with your partner to help them ask questions and take notes is an incredible way to support her. She will be confused, scared, and overwhelmed. Remain invested in her best outcome and help her keep a list of calendar appointments and medications. This also means you can later discuss what you heard if they were not in the room for a moment or if they felt they were experiencing chemo brain fog.
Help support her when she is struggling with fatigue by reassuring her you will take over her chores. The number one complaint of breast cancer patients is the fatigue. It can last for weeks, months, or even years following treatment. It is not ordinary exhaustion, but the feeling of sleeping 8 hours and waking up feeling like a truck ran over you. Naps don’t help, but they do alleviate other symptoms. Therefore, it’s helpful when you are there to take over tidying things up. Reassuring her that you and the children can take over her chores and accepting help from others when it’s offered is going to help the woman you love more than anything else you can do.
Your relationship will change but keep it alive with other forms of communication. Some couples get closer with a diagnosis of breast cancer, and for some, the strain is too great. If you notice you are having more conflict and trouble communicating, this is a wonderful time to get relationship counseling. Sometimes your partner will not feel like talking, but there are other ways to show your love. Hold her hand, get away for the weekend if possible, when she feels good, bring home little surprises, or make her favorite foods if she feels like eating. Breast cancer can make a woman feel less of a woman, especially with surgery and the loss of hair. Remind her of how beautiful she is and encourage her by reminding her of things the two of you will do in the future.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of her. Self-care is not selfish; it’s a necessity when you are caring for a loved one with breast cancer. Accept help from others when they offer. Go to the gym, meditate, and take a break when you need to. The diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer is not a sprint. It’s a long and challenging experience, so take time to renew your spirits so you can help renew your partner’s.
A diagnosis of breast cancer is a detour in your loved one’s life story as well as your own. As much as possible, do not let the cancer define your relationship. Be a support for her but remind her she is more than her cancer. Help her see the big picture. Help her identify things to be grateful for, which can build resilience. No one is grateful for cancer, but with cancer comes awareness of how much you are loved by others. When I asked my breast cancer clients what they appreciated most about their husbands during their treatment, they mentioned it was their sense of humor. They responded that humor lifted their anxious moments and helped them feel more resilient to carry on. Partners hold an important part of their significant other’s treatment. Stay close and continue to be their biggest cheerleader.