Cancer - Family Support

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Family Support in CancerRemember that what you can or should do when your spouse has a cancer diagnosis is fully dependent on what he/she needs. Your partner may be newly diagnosed, facing a recurrence or dealing with a metastatic cancer.

The following are some practical guidelines to help you and your spouse during these challenging times:


Face Cancer as a Team

Your spouse may be the one afflicted with cancer cells in his/her body, but the cancer experience affects everyone. Life as you had known will never be the same again, and feelings of fear, horror, shock and helplessness may surface. As a team, you are tasked to face up to the threats posed by cancer and the side-effects of treatment together.

It is very comforting and reassuring to know that you have your spouse’s support regardless of what happens. Here are some issues that you should try to work through together:

  •     How severe is the cancer?
  •     What is the most ideal treatment plan for your circumstances? Discuss with your doctor on the pros and cons of different treatments.
  •     Ask about clinical trials or other holistic approaches e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine/Treatments etc.
  •     How to tell your children or family members?
  •     How to navigate the lifestyle changes to daily routines? Where to seek help with practical needs e.g. babysitting, meal preparations, household chores?
  •     How and where to get the best support – support programs, counsellors, spiritual community?

Discuss and Eliminate Assumptions

It is very unhelpful for you to assume what your partner is feeling or thinking about the cancer. Be open and invite him/her to dialogue. You may assume that your partner feels fearful but perhaps it may be grief or sadness or even guilt over having to burden you with his/her caregiving. Be patient and offer a listening ear; tell him or her that you are in this together and will journey together, no matter what happens.

  •     Talk to your partner about his or her emotional responses and concerns.
  •     Ask what you can do for your partner.
  •     Discuss helping with practical needs e.g. going together for doctor’s appointments, handling calls from relatives, taking over household duties.
  •     Allow yourself to be attuned to the emotional needs as well; provide empathy, support and encouragement.

    Most patients feel compelled to put on a brave front to assure their loved ones that they are fine. Your partner may suppress legitimate fears as he/she does not want to worry you. This is unhealthy and may cause stress. As a spouse, do try to validate both positive and negative emotions.

Cancer and Sexuality

Your spouse’s cancer and treatment may likely affect his/her body image, sexual functioning, or interest.  You may find yourself having to manage sexual issues with extra love and sensitivity. Chemotherapy may cause a loss of libido and certain cancers (e.g. breast and prostate cancers) may result in surgeries that alter your partner’s body and body image. These bodily and emotional changes may result in a loss of sexual interest; however, open communication is key to dealing with such issues.

You may want to assure your partner that your love and fidelity is not motivated by sexual desires or performance and that there are other ways to demonstrate love and express intimacy. Share with him/her that their survival is your main priority and that you wish to continue a physical relationship in other ways. You may also seek advice from your doctor or sex therapist.

 Family Support originally appeared on Parkway Cancer Centre and has been republished with permission

Further Reading

The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.