- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Living with advanced cancer
- The others in your life
- The effect on partners
The effect on partners
The emotional support provided by a partner can affect how you cope with the diagnosis. How you talk with your partner about cancer depends partly on how you’ve always communicated. Many relationships can be challenged by a cancer diagnosis. This may be because of several factors, including an uncertain future, financial worries after the diagnosis, and feeling isolated.
Some studies suggest that partners have levels of distress similar to or greater than those of the person with cancer, and as a result partners may feel depressed and anxious. Being open and honest can help you and your partner through any anxieties, sadness and uncertainty, and your relationship may become stronger.
At times, you and your partner may not share each other’s feelings, attitudes or opinions, and this can lead to tension. You may find it difficult if your partner doesn’t want to talk about the diagnosis or your treatment options with you. They may unconsciously distance themselves as a way of coping or protecting you, without meaning to be hurtful.
You could try telling your partner what you need most from them. Many people say that their biggest single need is for a sympathetic listener. Remind your partner that the important thing is not what they say but to be there and to listen. Let them know you are grateful for their support and that you understand it’s tough for them too.
Good communication with my partner was a blessing. It was the total difference in being able to cope.
|We use the term ‘partner’ to mean husband, wife, de facto, same-sex partner, boyfriend or girlfriend.|
We are all sexual beings, and intimacy adds to the quality of our lives. During the initial shock of diagnosis, sex might be the furthest thing from your mind. Over time, you may have questions about how cancer can affect your sexual and intimate life.
Depending on where the cancer has spread, or the type of treatment you’re having, you can feel sore and find even a gentle hug uncomfortable. Your partner may avoid contact for fear of hurting you, or you may avoid physical contact for fear of rejection.
It takes time to adapt to physical and emotional changes. Most people find it is easier to re-establish contact by lying close together in bed. If sexual intimacy is no longer possible or desired, you may find physical closeness in other ways, such as cuddling, stroking or massage. Talk with your partner about your feelings and concerns about the sexual changes in your relationship, and acknowledge the changes in intimacy.
For more on this, see Sexuality, intimacy and cancer.
Prof Nicholas Glasgow, Head, Calvary Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute, ACT; Kathryn Bennett, Nurse Practitioner, Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc., VIC; Dr Maria Ftanou, Head, Clinical Psychology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Erin Ireland, Legal Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Nikki Johnston, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, ACT; Judy Margolis, Consumer; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kate Reed- Cox, Nurse Practitioner, National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Helena Rodi, Project Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kaitlyn Thorne, Coordinator Cancer Support, 13 11 20, Cancer Council Queensland.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
- Caring for Someone with Cancer Download PDF442kB
- Emotions and Cancer Download PDF506kB
- Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer Download PDF423kB
- Living with Advanced Cancer ebook Download ePUB483kB
- Caring for Someone with Cancer ebook Download ePUB1.16MB
- Emotions and Cancer ebook Download ePUB569kB
- Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer ebook Download ePUB905kB