The stress of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can be hard on your relationship. It is vital in any relationship to communicate, but it becomes really important when a severe illness such as breast cancer is involved.
Breast cancer is unfamiliar terrain for most couples, so it is important for both of you to communicate how you are feeling and coping. Even if you don’t know what you are feeling, say so. Saying “I’m confused and sad and I don’t really know what to think right now” can help your partner understand your thoughts, and also know that they are not alone.
Understanding each other is very important. Is one of you quieter while the other is more emotional? Is either of you more likely to talk about your feelings while the other dislikes sharing? Be certain first to understand how your partner communicates to help make sure you aren’t misunderstanding or misreading any actions or words. It is important to understand your partner’s thought process and coping methods, and if they are different from your own, then talk about it.
Be honest with your partner so they know how to support you. If your partner is trying to be strong, unemotional and unflappable but you need someone who shares your fears and is honest rather than unconcerned, tell them! Be clear about what you need from them, and ask that they be equally clear with you. Different coping strategies can lead to resentment and anger, which is the last thing you want to be dealing with during your breast cancer treatment.
Your breast cancer diagnosis may shake up not only emotions, but also schedules. Appointments, recovery time, hospital stays, work, and fatigue can all contribute to new household divisions of labour. If you were originally the primary caretaker for children or elderly family members, this responsibility may be shifted in large part to your partner. Your partner may now be helping you deal with such things as insurance issues, appointment times, medications, etc.
Beyond this, you may also need their physical support, including transportation to and from appointments, caring for you post-treatment, and help with dressing. These new responsibilities can be a difficult adjustment for both you and your partner.
The confusion and stress of a breast cancer diagnosis can cause an emotional strain on your partner. It is important to be aware if they are struggling. Encourage them to be open and honest if they are feeling overwhelmed, and ask family and friends to help. You and your partner need to remember that there is no shame in not being able to handle everything alone. In addition to family and friends, there are many support groups, online communities and individual counsellors who can offer support and guidance in difficult times.
It is also important to consider how you feel in relation to your partner. As previously mentioned, communication is key to keeping your relationship healthy through the stress of breast cancer. Some of your partner’s actions may not be helpful or may even be hurtful. Is this purposeful? Is your partner not providing the type of support that you need? Every breast cancer patient is different, just as each relationship is different. Be vocal about your wishes, desires and needs. Hopefully your partner will be receptive and equally direct in return.
In some cases, your partner may pull away or not be as supportive as you wish. If communication between you and your partner has broken down and you feel that your relationship is in danger, it is important to get professional counselling. The possibility of separation or divorce while facing breast cancer can be devastating, and a therapist can help you work through issues and problems in a safe and well thought-out way.