Breast Cancer Diagnosis – Common Challenges For Partners

Breast Cancer - Challenges For Partners

The following article comes from Breast Cancer Network Australia’s Wish I Could Fix It  booklet, one of the many free, helpful and informative booklets offered by BCNA.

We know that a breast cancer diagnosis can significantly affect partners. Women often tell us that they feel shock, disbelief, fear and uncertainty. As the partner of a woman diagnosed, your feelings can be similar. It’s normal for partners to feel overwhelmed and to experience a whole range of emotions: shock, numbness, uncertainty, fear, helplessness, sadness,anger, depression or anxiety.

Following are some of the common challenges you may face, and tips from other partners that may help you cope with these challenges.

We found taking things back to basics helped, for example, finding our love and remembering why we are together. We went on dates and on the good days during chemo we made plans to take full advantage of Liz being well. – Scott

Common challenges for partners

  • Not being able to fix the situation Both you and your partner will probably feel distressed about her diagnosis
  • However, after a woman starts her treatment she will often feel a bit better because she is doing something. You, on the other hand, may feel like you are unable to do anything and this may leave you feeling frustrated. It can be especially hard if you are the type of person who likes to fix things.

As a man, when something is broken you immediately want to fix it, but when it comes to the most precious thing in your life, your partner, you can’t, and that’s very distressing. –  Jacques

Things that may help

  • Going to medical appointments with your partner with a list of questions and writing notes that you and your partner can read later. Prioritize your list so the most important questions are at the top, in case you run out of time.
  • Reading about breast cancer with your partner.
  • Asking your partner what you can do to help her. Suggest she write a list for you. The list can include things such as driving her to appointments, or just listening to her when she needs to talk.

My partner drove me to appointments and took notes. He arranged for the house to be cleaned and walked the dog. – Christy

I would encourage Ann to make each treatment decision based on the information she had. Seeing Ann exercising her will by choosing to confront her future choices was empowering for her. – Andrew

Feeling like you have to be strong for her

  • Partners tell us they often find it hard to know what to say, and some think that they need to always stay strong and ‘put on a brave face’.
  • Saying things like ‘you’ll be fine’ or ‘try to keep positive’ may not be helpful. They may actually make it harder for your partner to talk to you about how she really feels.

Men try to be supermen, but you realize in this circumstance you can’t be.You have to sit back after a while and just be Clark Kent. – Steve

There is a huge expectation on our partners that they have to stay positive, and my husband was overwhelmed sometimes. – Kylie

Things that may help

  • Listening to your partner and letting her talk about her fears and hopes for the future. This will help her feel she is being heard and understood.
  • Talking to your partner about how you are feeling.

Things to avoid

  • Feeling like you need to fix the situation – women often just want someone to listen.
  • Saying things like ‘be positive’, ‘keep your chin up’ or ‘you’ll be fine’.

Jane wants more of my emotional support – something that I find hard to do but something I am slowly starting to learn. – Clive

My husband gave me lots of cuddles and reassured me I was still beautiful. He filtered the phone calls when I didn’t want to talk. He drove me to doctors’ visits, hospital and treatments and stayed with me. This was good because you feel a bit vulnerable and you don’t always take in all the information. – Tonya

Breast Cancer Network Australia’s website includes detailed information about breast cancer treatment and care. It also has information for partners of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

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