Being the partner of a young person diagnosed with cancer can be challenging to say the least. No one expects to find themselves in this position, let alone at this stage of their lives. You might suddenly find yourself in the role of a carer and taking on responsibilities or making decisions that you’d never anticipated.
Here are some ideas and suggestions we hope will help. They’re based on some of the common experiences that partners of young people with cancer have told us about.
your reaction and feelings
Everyone will react differently but common responses include feeling shocked, angry or scared. All these reactions are normal, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out for extra support. The Redkite support team has years of experience talking to people going through this.
Some things that may help include:
what can I do to help?
Just being there for your partner as they cope with their own feelings is vital. Talk to them and ask what they need. The communication skills you’ve used in your relationship before diagnosis are now even more important. You might also be playing an important role in helping your partner make sense of and advocate for their own needs.
what about my other responsibilities?
One of the challenges for a partner can be how to balance support with other commitments, such as work or study. You might be concerned about financial issues or attendance at school or uni. If you'd like to talk to someone about balancing these responsibilities, the Redkite support team is here for you.
what about sex?
It might seem strange to be talking about sex, but it's important not to ignore it. There’s a potential risk that your partner has traces of chemotherapy in their bodily fluids, which has the potential to harm you if transferred. This can still happen even two or three months after treatment has finished.
Condoms can be used to prevent this and of course also as a contraceptive. Remember that it is still possible to become pregnant during treatment.
Treatment-related fatigue, tiredness and dryness can also complicate things when it comes to intimacy.
As embarrassing as it can seem, talking to your medical team will help you gather important information about these issues.
your partner's family
No matter how positive your relationship was with your partners’ parents before their diagnosis, sometimes issues can arise. The hospital room can sometimes feel crowded with people and opinions, and you’re probably both going to feel protective and want to be involved in decision-making. Remember that your partner might be feeling stuck in the middle.
Good communication, understanding and respect on both sides will be important. Remember that you all want the best outcome for your partner.
Maybe you’ve already started a family of your own and are now in the daunting position of trying to support your partner while caring for your own children. You might need get extra help looking after them while you work or spend time at the hospital, or need assistance in explaining cancer to them. Two great starting places for support are your hospital social worker and the Redkite support team.
what if cancer puts too much strain on the relationship?
Unfortunately, not every relationship survives cancer. The stress it puts on both new and old partnerships can be overwhelming.
However guilty you may feel, staying with someone just because they have cancer is usually not a good idea. Your partner needs your respect as well as your compassion.
If you’re having concerns about your relationship, remember you can talk to a member of the Redkite support team in confidence by phone, email and in person.
Last updated September 2015.