After a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s quite normal to feel shock, disbelief, helplessness and fear. As a partner, your feelings could be very similar.
There is no right or wrong way for couples to cope with breast cancer. It will be up to the two of you to find a coping strategy that works for you both.
Whatever you choose, the good news is that most people survive breast cancer. In fact, of all the people diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia, 90% are alive five years later. The majority of people recover and their breast cancer does not return.
Partners commonly report feeling frustrated and helpless over not being able to ‘fix’ their partner’s breast cancer. If you feel this way too, the following things may help:
- If your partner agrees, go to medical appointments with them. Write a list of questions you might want to ask before you go, and take notes when you are there. They can be useful to refer back to later.
- Consider reading about breast cancer with your partner.
- Ask your partner what you can do to help.
- Take on more roles around the house such as cleaning, taking care of children or sorting out finances.
- Ask your family and friends for help. You might need to tell them exactly what you need, such as ‘a hand with the kids while I go grocery shopping’, or ‘help with the ironing once a fortnight’.
- Call your local council or community health service and ask what help they may be able to provide.
- Talk with your boss about flexible working arrangements.
Ask for and accept all the help you can get. Don’t be too proud to ask. – Andrew, partner
Looking after yourself
Looking after yourself will help you cope better and better support your partner. Try to think about looking after yourself as beneficial to you both, and not as an indulgence.
If you’re not sure where to start, try taking some time to do something you enjoy, perhaps going for a walk or spending time with friends. If you think it will help, talk about your concerns with a close friend or family member. If you’d rather speak to a professional, you can call the Cancer Council Helpline (13 11 20). Your GP is also a great resource. He or she may be able to suggest some coping strategies for you during this challenging time.
Returning to ‘normal’
Many partners expect that after treatment their relationship will go back to the way it was; however this doesn’t always happen. Many women who experience breast cancer feel that they are not the same as they used to be. A lot of women talk about having a new sense of what is ‘normal’ or ‘right’ for them. For some women this involves exploring new approaches to life. Many partners tell us that they are able to be part of this ‘new normal’ and continue having a happy life with their partner.
Things that may help
- Understand that not all things will return to the way they were. Give yourself and your partner time to adjust to your ‘new normal’.
- Remember that many women feel they are not the same person they used to be.
- Encourage your partner to take her time finding her ‘new normal’.
- Consider seeking help from a counsellor to help you both through this time.
Cancer Australia CD and podcasts
Cancer Australia provides information for men supporting a woman through early breast cancer. The series, When the woman you love has early breast cancer, provides advice and information to men on how to deal with their own needs and feelings. Men share their own experiences and health professionals offer guidance on a range of emotional, physical and practical issues. It is available as an online podcast or as a CD.
- Listen to the podcast in English.
- Transcripts in languages other than English are available. Visit the publications and resources section of the Cancer Australia website and select your language from the drop-down box.
- You can order the series as a CD here.
- More information for partners can be found on our Caring for someone with early breast cancer page.
- BCNA’s booklet I wish I could fix it’: Supporting your partner through breast cancer has information for partners of people diagnosed with breast cancer in the last 12 months.
- Cancer Australia provides information for partners.
- Cancer Council’s Partners guide to coping with cancer booklet has tips to help partners cope.
- Cancer Council has information on telling children of different age groups about cancer.
- beyondblue's Man Therapy provides information for men on depression and anxiety.
- The Australian Lesbian Medical Association (ALMA) has a list of health professionals who are recommended by lesbian and bisexual women.
- Cancer Council 13 11 20 is a free, confidential telephone information and support service.
- Cancer Connect 13 11 20 connects you with someone who has been through a similar cancer experience.
- Relationships Australia (1300 364 277) offers relationship counselling.
- MensLine Australia (1300 789 978) provides support for men with relationship issues.
- Carers Australia National Carer Counselling Program (1800 242 636)