When your partner or spouse is diagnosed with cancer, it’s a very difficult time for both of you. Many people find that they want to support their partner but find it hard to know where to start. Here’s a practical Live Better With guide to helping your partner through cancer…

Supporting your loved one through cancer can make a huge difference to their well-being – and sometimes the experience can even help to bring you closer together. Here are some of the ways you can help to provide practical and emotional support to your partner.

Keep communicating

One of the most important things is to communicate openly with each other. After a cancer diagnosis you are both likely to feel a range of emotions, and this is perfectly normal. However, it’s important to make sure you keep communicating and encouraging your partner to share their feelings. Take some time out together if you can, to take in the news and talk about what happens next. Tell your partner that you will be there alongside them to help and support them.

Ease the pressure

You can help to reduce any pressure on your partner by taking care of some of the day to day things, such as the housework, shopping, cooking some healthy meals, or dealing with the finances. You can also field any phone calls and visits from friends and family, so that your partner doesn’t get overwhelmed. Think about how you are going to share the news with friends, family or colleagues – your partner may like you to take control of this for them.

Be patient

As you support your partner through their cancer, it’s important to be flexible, and to acknowledge that there will some changes to your normal routine and social life, as well as your personal and intimate life too. When it comes to sex, be patient with your partner and take the lead from them. They may be feeling tired, anxious about their treatment, or worried about the physical side effects.

Try to focus on other ways of being close for the time being, and reassure them that there’s no pressure and you can work through any issues together. You can read the LBW guide to cancer and sex here.

Help with managing treatment

As they go through treatment, your partner will have to manage a lot of appointments and take in a lot of new information. This will be a steep learning curve for you both, and it can help if you learn together as a team and are both involved in making any important decisions.

You can also help by keeping track of the different appointments, tests and medications. Many people find it helpful to use a pill organiser to help with administering medicines.

Going along to appointments and treatments will give your partner valuable moral support. It’s helpful to note down any questions beforehand, and write down any important points during the appointment which your partner might find difficult to remember afterwards.

Be a good listener

As well as the practical side of things, your partner will need a good listening ear. Being there for them, and really listening to them, can make all the difference.

You don’t always have to know what to say, or be able to fix things – it can help your partner just to be able to express how they are feeling. Encourage them to be honest, and let them know it’s OK to feel angry, sad or frightened.

Remember everyone reacts differently, and they may also want some time alone to reflect, so be prepared to give them a bit of space, and try not to take things personally. Sometimes you can help just by sitting with them quietly, or cuddling up on the sofa and watching a movie together.

Help them to be comfortable

There are lots of products which are specially designed to make your loved one feel more comfortable and help them with day to day tasks – from bathing aids and adapted cushions, to comfy nightwear and things to help them relax and unwind. You can find more products to help with feeling comfortable here.

It’s also worth finding out what equipment and adaptations might be available for your partner, from your healthcare provider:

“Getting occupational health to do a home visit helped us get the right equipment to allow my husband to move around the house more independently – I would definitely recommend everyone does this” – Doreen, LBW community member

Make them feel special

Having treatment for cancer can mean that you are confined to your bed or the hospital ward for long periods of time. A thoughtful gift, such as a journal, some books or DVDs, or a hobby kit, can make them feel cherished and help to keep them entertained.

You can see a range of practical, fun and thoughtful gift ideas here.

Encourage some time out

A cancer diagnosis can be a very intense time, and sometimes your partner might want to just forget about it for a while. It’s a good idea to try and focus on other things when you can. If your partner feels up to it, encourage them to pursue a favourite hobby, or offer to take them out for a coffee or a drive. Remember, it’s still possible to enjoy doing things together when you can – and it’s okay to laugh and have fun sometimes!

Practise self-care

Caring for a partner with cancer can be physically exhausting and mentally draining for you, too. It’s essential to make sure you look after yourself. Accept offers of help from friends and family members. Arrange to have some time out when you can, for a walk in the fresh air, a nice relaxing bath, or a chat with a friend. Joining a support group or online forum can also be a good source of support for you and your partner, from other people who’ve been through the same experience.

“Ask for help if you’re struggling, ask if someone can sleep over and share responsibility of overnight care a couple of days a week. This helped me to take some time out so I could get a full night of uninterrupted sleep – bliss!” – Charlotte, LBW community member

You can view the complete LBW guide for carers here.


Being diagnosed with cancer is a difficult and stressful experience, and one which can put extra strain on a relationship. By providing moral and practical support, and by making sure you communicate openly from the start, you can help to stay close to your partner and find a way through the experience together.

If you have tips to share, or if you are looking for advice and support, why not visit the Live Better With Cancer Community Forum.