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Supporting a Partner with Cancer

Many people don’t know what to do when their spouse or significant other receives a cancer diagnosis. What should they say? How should they act? How can they be supportive, compassionate, helpful and strong?

There is no one-size-fits all formula, so we thought we’d share a few tips from the Best Friends for Life community.

First, stay true to your personality, and be supportive in a natural way.  Don’t forget that your partner knows you very well. If you act too abnormally, it might make the situation more stressful.

If you tend to be an organizer, great! Your skills are needed. Get family and friends on board to support your loved one. Make appointments, shopping lists, and visiting schedules. Get the medications lined up and measured. Your partner will be dealing with oncology, surgery, radiation therapy, home health, nutritionist, psychologist, fertility specialist, and will appreciate help keeping track of it all.

If you like to show you care with physical closeness, wonderful! Don’t change your natural inclinations. Hold hands (after you’ve washed them, of course), provide an arm for support, give a back or foot massage. Touch, especially from someone confident and comforting, is an incredible healer, and will make your loved one feel less isolated and afraid.

If you tend to let your emotions spill in times of trouble, then have a good cry if you need to. Afterwards, try to funnel all that feeling energy into listening, empathy and support. Sit together and watch a romantic comedy. Laughter is great medicine!

Are you a doer? Cook meals your loved one has an appetite for. Drive him or her to appointments.  Help write thank-you notes or make calls of appreciation.  Drive the kids to school and activities. Do shopping errands.  Keeping the home fires going will be very comforting for the patient.

Check out the shopping section on our website for items you can purchase to help your loved one through surgery and recovery. A man recently called our office in tears because his wife had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  He felt lost and did not know where to turn. He felt “helpless” because he was supposed to be the “strong one” in the couple. We guided him to our Breast BFFLBag and our Care and Questions section of the website where he could download the BFFL Guide to Mastectomy.   By the end of the call, he was brighter and felt “in control.” He called back the next day and ordered 2 axillapillas for another patient in the next hospital bed.  He was now guiding others.

Here are some links to additional resources:

Sloan-Kettering Guide for Caregivers

National Cancer Institute booklet “Caring for the Caregiver”

Cancer Care

Cancer Support Community “Ten Tips for Caregivers”

Well Spouse Association

National Alliance for Caregiving:

Family Caregiver Alliance


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