- Everyone reacts differently: There is no right or wrong way to feel about a cancer diagnosis. You and your wife may experience different feelings and process them differently too. Keep communication open between you both but be sure to also recognise and respect her boundaries.
- Ask her what she needs: Rather than assume, don’t be scared to ask your wife questions about how you can help her. She might want support in the form of physical comfort, company to take her mind off the situation, assistance with tasks or something else entirely.
- Don’t be afraid to seek support: Caring for someone with cancer can be physically and emotionally demanding and it’s ok if you need some support for yourself. Reach out to friends and family, join your local carers support group, find online communities, or speak to a cancer charity or organisation for advice.
Finding out your wife has breast cancer is incredibly tough and can affect you both in different ways. It is normal to experience a range of emotions including fear, anger, disbelief, and sadness, and for these emotions to change day to day.
It is also completely natural to want to help your wife as she navigates her diagnosis and treatment but be unsure about how best to go about this. Here at Perci Health, we have put together this helpful guide on how you can support your spouse. It includes advice on how to communicate with your wife, gives ideas for practical ways you can help and explores some of the ways in which cancer can affect your relationship.
Understanding treatments for breast cancer
Treatment for breast cancer depends on the type of cancer, how the cancer was diagnosed, and the stage of cancer. A person’s general health and whether they have been through menopause are also taken into consideration. The main forms of treatment for breast cancer are:
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
Your wife should be assigned a multidisciplinary team (MDT) who will discuss her treatment options with her. They may recommend one treatment or a combination. Depending on her circumstances and treatment plan, the length of treatment and the side effects will vary.
Understanding her emotions
Following a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s likely to be an emotional time for you, your wife, and your wider family. However, you may not always experience the same emotions at the same time. Individuals all respond differently, so try not to assume that you know how your wife feels.
Worry, resentment, grief, guilt, and frustration, amongst others, are all valid emotions that your wife might need to process. She might also experience a negative body image or self-esteem issues. These inner emotions may present themselves in a range of ways outwardly including irritability, a short temper, or giving loved ones the cold shoulder.
If your wife is open to talking about their feelings, be ready and willing to listen. However, try not to ‘fix’ anything or invalidate her feelings by drawing comparisons to other situations. If she isn’t ready or would prefer not to discuss her thoughts, respect this boundary and simply let your wife know you are there to listen should she change her mind.
When undergoing treatment for breast cancer, your wife may experience side effects that leave her feeling poorly and fatigued. If she has to undergo surgery, she will also need time to recover.
She may be unable to do the same things she did before her diagnosis and might appreciate practical support from you such as assisting with personal care, running errands or general tasks such as preparing meals. As with her emotions, don’t assume you know and be sure to ask her if there’s anything you can do to help.
If she is unable to continue working, her personal finances, and your joint finances may also be affected. Discuss this together and make decisions about how to navigate this. You might be able to use savings or access other income sources, for example, or look at your current outgoings and speak to providers to change or pause subscriptions.
How breast cancer may affect your relationship
The physical and emotional changes that are caused by cancer can affect your relationship in a multitude of ways. The feelings of anxiety, anger and stress can cause tension, as can shifts in the roles you both normally play. For example, if your wife is usually very independent, she may struggle with needing help to wash, dress, or do the things she used to do on her own.
Sex and intimacy can also change after a cancer diagnosis. Cancer treatments can cause a loss of libido, menopause or pain or difficulty in having intercourse. Breast cancer and its treatment can also cause body image issues and some people struggle with their confidence, sexuality, and femininity during and after treatment.
Your wife can talk to her MDT as they may be able to offer advice or point you in the direction of further support. Also, consider having psychosexual therapy to help you both adapt and manage the impact that cancer can have on intimacy.
Whilst cancer can have a negative impact on your relationship, there can also be some positives. It can help you to recognise your own strengths and those of your wife, it can help you to appreciate the smaller things and realise that time spent with loved ones is important. It can also bring you and your wife closer together and allow you to understand each other more deeply.
Get support for you
It can be easy to only focus on your wife and her needs but you must remember to take care of your wellbeing too.
If you are your wife’s main carer, don’t be scared to reach out for support from others or seek professional help. Family members and friends may be able to help with chores, errands or keeping your wife company on occasion whilst you take time to recharge your batteries. If you don’t have loved ones nearby, you might consider help in the form of a cleaner or meal delivery service, for example.
There is a range of cancer support charities and other organisations that can also give you information about support for carers and provide access to other people who understand what you are going through. If you need emotional or mental health support, be sure to talk to a close family member, your GP, or a counsellor.
If you are supporting someone with cancer, we are here to help. We have a range of support types available, including hypnotherapy, dietetics, and psychosexual therapy, all of which can be accessed virtually and are delivered by cancer care specialists.