Being the Partner of a Person with Breast Cancer
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Being the Partner of Someone with Breast Cancer

Overview

Your partner has a big job ahead of them: to become a breast cancer survivor. You have a big job too: to support them and keep your home together. You’ll need help to manage the challenges ahead and lower your risk of depression, a common condition experienced by family members caring for a person with cancer.

You have a difficult job ahead of you, but you don’t have to manage it alone. Reaching out to others can help you stay strong for your partner. Learn how to find the support you need.

Enlist family members

You may not want to burden your partner by talking about your own feelings and emotions, but communication can help you comfort each other and manage challenges together.

Your partner may be worried about possibly losing a breast and not being attractive to you. They may feel guilty about contributing less to household duties. They may feel like they’re neglecting you or your children. You may also find yourself struggling with similar worries or stress.

Talk about the systems you can put into place before treatment starts, to help manage these worries, reduce the burden of day-to-day activities, and improve the quality of your family time together. Consider asking other family members and friends for help when you need it.

If you have children who are old enough to help, consider assigning them some extra household chores. Just be sure not to overwhelm them with duties, and allow them to continue to participate in activities outside the house. If your partner feels up to it, schedule outings for the entire family to enjoy. If you don’t feel well enough, you can stay in to watch a movie or play board games or cards together. This can help your family enjoy moments of pleasure and stress relief together.

Enlist extended family members or friends to help with child care or household chores. For example, consider asking them to drive your kids to school or take them on a trip to the local swimming pool. Your loved ones may also be able and willing to pick up groceries, help cook dinners, or drive your partner to healthcare appointments. Some people find it helpful to make a shared calendar so that family and friends can “sign up” to take responsibility for meals and chores.

Join a support group

Check with your local church, library, and hospital for support groups for families of people with cancer. Many of these groups welcome members of all ages, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some groups have members who have experienced different types of cancer diagnoses. Others exist specifically for people coping with breast cancer and their family members.

Group members can help you learn what to expect during the course of your loved one’s cancer treatment. Talking with others who know what you’re going through may help you develop new coping skills. You can also share your own coping strategies with others.

Connect with others online

Many online resources are available to help you learn about your partner’s cancer diagnosis and connect with supportive communities. For example, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Survivor Network is an online community for people with cancer and their families. You can participate in online discussion boards and chat rooms with people who are going through similar experiences.

Some people find it helpful to give friends and family members updates with an online health journal like Caringbridge.org. That way you can keep everyone up-to-date without having to contact lots of different people individually.

Talk to others by telephone

Some organizations offer telephone support services. For example, ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis is an organization that helps connect people with breast cancer, family members, and friends with peer mentors. Your mentor will understand how overwhelming it can be to shoulder your partner’s care needs. They can help you navigate your emotions and share useful information, based on their personal experiences and ABCD training. Down the road, you may even decide to volunteer as a mentor yourself.

Speak to your doctor

If you find yourself struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression, speak with your doctor. They may recommend lifestyle changes to help boost your mood. They may also prescribe other treatments, such as medication, therapy, or a combination of both. Speaking with a therapist may help you cope with the challenges of managing your partner’s diagnosis.

Practice self-care

If you don’t take care of yourself, it will be harder to support your partner. Remember to take time to meet your physical and mental health needs. Eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and sleeping enough can help you maintain your strength, energy, and focus when you need it most. When you get overwhelmed, taking a quick walk around the block may help you feel more calm and centered. Meditating may also help relieve your stress and anxiety.

It’s important to take regular breaks to participate in activities you enjoy. This can help you manage your stress during difficult times. Consider asking a friend or family member to stay with your partner, so you can have some time alone.

The takeaway

It can be challenging and stressful to care for a partner who has breast cancer. The best thing you can do for your partner is to communicate openly about your fears and feelings, and make sure to take care of yourself. It’s important to reach out to others for support. For example, consider asking friends and family members to help with day-to-day activities or child care. You can also connect with other family members of people with breast cancer through local support groups, online communities, or telephone services.

It’s important to make time for self-care. Try not to feel guilty about taking time for yourself. When you don’t manage your own physical and mental health needs, it’s harder to care for someone else. A healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and alone time may help you maintain the energy and focus you need to support your partner’s recovery.

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