My partner has cancer

You might be dating, in a serious relationship or commited for life. Whatever your situation, cancer is bound to throw some challenges your way. You and your other half both have a lot to deal with, but it doesn't have to come between you. It comes down to supporting each other, and yourselves.

How am I feeling?

Shock, anger, fear, disbelief, numbness: it’s all normal. Being ‘the other half’ can be extra complicated though. If you’re in a fairly new relationship, you could feel a bit left out while family rallies round your partner, or you might be wondering if this is even something you can handle.

If you’ve been together for a while, the changes to your daily lives could leave you feeling like your own needs aren’t being met, and you might feel guilty for needing support too. Feeling frustrated and powerless to help is also common, but you can make a difference.

How are they feeling?

There will probably be a million questions flying around your partner’s mind about their prognosis, what’s going to happen to them and how cancer is going to affect their life. They could be feeling vulnerable and like no one really understands.

They will undoubtedly have down days, but they might also feel like they have to ‘be strong’ and put on a brave face for the people around them. When it comes to you and your relationship, they might be afraid to put pressure or expectations on you. They might not know how to talk to you about their feelings, or feel that they need to protect you from it.

What do we do?

If you’re a new couple and you’ve found yourself in this situation, you have nothing to lose by dropping those barriers and getting it all out there – even if you don’t want to talk, or it feels weird or too full on. You’re going to need to communicate with each other so you can figure things out together.

Been together a while? It’s the same deal. Being honest and open can be difficult but it’s the only way to face issues with a united front. Don’t be scared to be vulnerable with each other. If you share your feelings, it will encourage your partner to do the same.

What should we expect?

No one can predict the future but here are some things to think about.

The top five things you can do

1. Let them know you’re here

Be the person that your partner can talk to about anything. Knowing that they aren’t going to scare you off or overwhelm you will make your partner feel safe confiding in you. And this will make it easier to support each other as a couple.

2. Talk, and listen to what they need

Being honest and open with each other from the start will make it easier to keep this up in the future. Having this kind of relationship will help you overcome any issues that come your way and will ultimately bring you closer together.

3. Be yourself

Does your partner want to talk about cancer all the time? Probably not. You shouldn’t feel that you have to change the way you are. If humour is an important part of your relationship, there’s no need to suddenly get serious. Don’t make any assumptions about what you think they need or want – just be yourself and be led by them. They’ll probably appreciate the normality you bring, especially if you’re the one that can keep them feeling like their usual self.

4. Inform yourself

Getting familiar with common cancer issues can open up ideas of how you can be there for your partner. If they’ve had to give up work, could you look into what benefits are available? What about things they might need in hospital, like hand cream or a supply of their favourite snacks?

5. Look after number one

You can’t give someone the care and support they need if you’re running on empty too. Get yourself in a good place so you have the resilience to be there for your partner. This means eating well, exercising and having the energy to deal with this ‘new normal’. It also means seeking emotional support – whether that’s talking to other partners going through it, friends, family or professionals. Try asking your partner’s hospital team. They might be able to give you some good advice themselves, or point you in the direction of support.