When the Woman You Love Has Cancer

What do you do? What do you say? How do you act?

You’ve just been told that the woman you love has been diagnosed with cancer. Your first thoughts usually revolve around what is going to happen next. Will she require surgery? Will she have to undergo treatments of chemotherapy or radiation? Will she have to give up her job, school or lifestyle in general? And ultimately, is she going to survive this disease?

Regardless of type of cancer, the diagnosis affects everyone differently, but most women do not want to suffer through treatment alone. Emotions are all over the map, your and hers. Those emotions can be hard to read. But remember that often times, it’s the simple things in life that really matter most to people. A hug, a card of encouragement, a back rub or a meal cooked with love, are all small things that mean so much when dealing with a difficult situation.

The most important thing you can do is offer support. But what does that really mean?

Well, all women are unique, so that could take on a lot of different meanings to the woman in your life. Communicating is important so she knows you still love her and want to do everything possible to make this journey as easy as possible. Unfortunately, it will be a bit frustrating for you as you won’t be able to fix this problem. It is a journey you both will need to go through and as long as she knows you are willing to go through it with her, it will make her journey easier.

After talking to many women going through and reflecting back on their cancer experience we have assembled several ideas to help you better support the woman in your life who is going through this difficult journey.

Being supportive includes becoming informed about breast, ovarian and other women’s cancer and their treatment. It means encouraging the woman in your life to investigate and learn all about her type of cancer and the options of treatment and adjunct therapy she may want to explore.

Being supportive to the woman you care for is also about listening to her fears, validating her feelings, sharing special moments and helping with the day to day responsibilities to give her a little more time to spend on herself. People going through cancer treatments are usually fatigued and need to rest. Taking the kids out to the park or for dinner will let her get that well deserved nap or break from those responsibilities.

Rally the friends and relatives around to help you.  Women tend to be wonderful caregivers but lousy at asking for help. Try to anticipate some of her concerns and get neighbors or friends, for instance, to take the kids to practice or dance; bring over a meal so she won’t feel guilty for not cooking for the family; clean up the house or just come over for a short visit.

Don’t forget to touch her, hold her hand, and stroke her back, her face. Touch is healing and more than anything she wants to be the way she was before the diagnosis. She needs to hear the words that express your love but she also needs to feel them.

Having said all of this, remember to take time for you as well. Caregivers/spouses tend to look after others and not themselves, so it is very important to keep in touch with your own emotions so as not to put yourself at risk for an emotional or a physical meltdown.  You may find that you need someone to talk to as well.  Consider counseling through a licensed practitioner, clergy, or find a group that dedicated to supporting the partners.  For male partners, Men Against Breast Cancer is a good resource.  You can also call our local affiliates or the national office at 1-888-386-8048 for help.