Being a partner and a carer: how cancer can affect relationships

Being a partner and a carer: how cancer can affect relationships

A loved one being diagnosed with cancer can have just as big an emotional and practical impact as a personal diagnosis. This can have a greater impact if you also become a carer. Many members here on the Community team who are supporting a partner might want to do everything they can to help. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need support too.

Here in the Community News blog, we often say every diagnosis and experience can be different. That’s true for relationships too. For some people, a partner having a cancer diagnosis might not impact your relationship at all. For others, a cancer diagnosis can cause additional worries and difficulties in a relationship. You aren’t alone in what you’re going through, no matter how you feel.

A cancer diagnosis can affect relationships in many ways. Some people may become a carer for their partner. Some people may find it difficult to cope with a change in their relationship. Many people also may find a new sense of strength and comfort from their relationship with their partner while coping with a cancer diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis does not impact every person or relationship in the same way.

“Everything has changed and coming to terms with the dramatic shift in our relationship alongside caring for him full time has been emotionally and physically draining.”

Community member, “Carers only” group

Becoming a carer can mean there’s a lot to think about. A diagnosis, going through cancer treatment and possible side effects may mean your partner needs more help. As one member said, it can sometimes be emotionally and physically difficult. It’s natural to feel that caring for your partner has impacted your relationship. You may feel you don’t have as much time as you used to for romance, or doing activities you used to do together. You may also feel that you have less time for your own needs and looking after own mental health. 

“I’m trying to be there for whatever she needs, but it’s like being the home help and not the husband who is trying to help where he can.”

Community member, “Carers only” group

Finding it hard to cope with change or additional responsibilities does not necessarily mean you don’t love or care for your partner. It does not always mean you don’t want to do your best to help them. This could mean that you may need some further emotional support or practical support for yourself.

“I really don’t know how I’m going to cope with a FT job plus caring for my husband during and after treatment. I know this sounds so selfish and I feel terrible even thinking these thoughts but we have always been a team, facing all issues and challenges side by side, never apart and are devoted to each other … but I can’t escape the feeling that we are now being forced into taking separate journey’s which neither of us feel equipped to take. “

Community member, “Prostate cancer” group

It can feel isolating to be a carer for your partner. You may feel that you are now on your own in some ways. It can be difficult to cope with being a carer alongside being a partner and other responsibilities you may have.

There is a lot of practical support to help you. Our Macmillan webpage “Looking after someone with cancer” features lots of resources and guidance on finding the right help for you both. It may also help to be honest with family and friends about how you feel.

“I am angry and I feel almost cheated because it's come at a point where we were just moving to a lovely home and area and planning to have the next stage of our lives be so much better. Now I feel like it's all changed and quite frankly spoilt. Then I feel guilty about the feelings because he is being so positive and strong and telling me how lucky we are. I don't feel lucky, I feel terrified of losing him. Then I feel guilty for not having faith in him to fight it and have a good remission.”

Community member, “Carers only” group

You may feel angry or upset about the cancer diagnosis. Many members on the Community say things like that they feel selfish or guilty about having these emotions. It is ok to feel lots of different emotions about your partner having a cancer diagnosis and your role as a carer. Macmillan’s webpage on the emotional effects of caring talks about the emotions you might feel.

“The prognosis is good so far.  But the effects of the op and the shock of finding out he had cancer has up ended our lives. Im struggling with what its done to us and to our relationship.  Has anyone tried counselling as a couple to help with the impact of cancer and how to deal with it?”

Community member, “Carers only” group

Some people may find it helpful to talk to someone about their relationship. This can sometimes be relationship counselling. Relate is a charity which specialises in relationship support. Relate have a webchat, relationship counselling and other services available on their website.

It can also be helpful to talk to other people in a similar situation. Lots of conversations which we feature in this blog come from the “Carers only” group. As the title suggests, this is a safe, non-judgemental place to talk with other people who are looking after loved ones. If you haven’t joined the group yet and you’re looking after someone with cancer, follow the link and click “Join” under “Group tools.”

You can anonymously talk about any aspect of your relationship here on the Online Community. The site is here to reassure you that other people can understand how you feel. This can include discussing how cancer has affected how you feel about sex.

“I just can’t seem to get over the no intimacy and feel very alone as he acts like this is normal. How can I get myself to be ok with this situation and feel the love for him again?”

Community member, “Prostate cancer” group

You may feel that your partner’s cancer diagnosis has affected your sex life. This can be an important part of many relationships, and it may be difficult to talk about. Our recent blog “Let’s talk about cancer and sex” features lots of support and resources around sex.

We’ve talked a lot about changes to your relationship when your partner has a cancer diagnosis. For many couples, relationships can have challenges outside of and before a diagnosis. You may also have other difficulties outside of your relationship. It is ok to acknowledge that there are other challenges that may be affecting you. Your own feelings are important. 

“My feelings have changed towards him a while ago but never knew how to say or deal with it, I suppose I just plodded on, in August last year he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I feel my life has turned upside down.”

Community member, “New to the Community” group

Relate provide support for you as an individual, alongside as a couple. If you feel you may personally need a chat, or access to further support, please remember you can also contact Macmillan’s Support Line. Our teams are available on the Support Line over email, live webchat or by calling 0808 808 00 00 7 days a week between 8am-8pm. You deserve to find the right support for you. Our Support Line can help you to find lots of different options if this would be useful, such as local support groups and counselling. 

Every relationship is different. Finding the best way to support each other and navigate changes can take time. One Community member found that taking the time to find joy whenever they could, made a big difference.

“I think for me it is about readjusting my expectations and finding joy where ever I can in our relationship - if we hold hands on the sofa, if we laugh at something on TV, if we joke about how fat the cat is looking. All of that is still precious, even though we can't go out anymore or do anything.”

Community member, “Supporting someone with incurable cancer” group

It’s important to take the time to look after yourself while you’re caring for someone else. Many people may experience challenges while caring for their partner. As we see above, many people may also continue to find joy and comfort in their relationship. It’s ok to talk about how you feel here on the Online Community. Why not share your experiences in the comments below?

Read more about relationships and being a carer:

The image used in this blog is from the Disabled and Here Project.

Anonymous
  • I have made a Sanctuary for myself in the spare room. A room for me. When I give all I can give elsewhere. I doubt he will ever hold me again. We try to hold hands when possible, but not often. This is a situation I never thought I'd find myself in. Our 24th wedding anniversary is Monday. We will be at Immunotherapy. And I will be starting the day with a call to the palliative nurse, trying to get him to go into hospice for pain. This is the hardest thing I have ever done bar none. And they all say he is now stable. And I need to get back to work. For now. BUT on the other hand, he's still here. And there are occasional glimmers of the man I love. 

  • Hi ,

    Thank you for getting in touch, I'm Eliza from the Community team. I hope you found our blog helpful to read. I'm sorry to hear about everything you and your partner are going through just now.

    I can hear in your message that this is an incredibly difficult time, and I hope you feel you can continue to reach out here on the Online Community. Our teams on the Support Line are also here to help if you just need a chat or if you'd like to access some further support for yourself during this time. 

    If there's anything else we can do to support you, please get in touch with us over email to community@macmillan.org.uk or over private message to .

    Take care,

    Eliza

    Macmillan Community team

  • Thank you!

    It's so hard when deemed "Stable" and cancer not growing- but this weekend has been hellish with pain in two places. I can't manage much more and will call our nursing team tomorrow to see if they and he will agree to a stint in the hospice. I think there is something to be said for taking someone off of everything- pill wise. And then starting again. 

    Thank you for your support- I appreciate everyone on here. 

    I have told him that tomorrow his anniversary gift to me will be DOING immunotherapy. So that he may be here a bit longer. 

    T.

  • Hi

    I'm Steph and I work alongside Eliza in the Community team. I hope you don't mind me responding here.

    I hope everything went as well as expected and that you've managed to find some further support. If you have any questions, or just need to talk, do remember that our Support Line is here for you.

    I hope you're also finding comfort in being part of the Community and being able to talk to others who understand. Do let us know if you ever need any help using the site, or finding further support. 

    Take care, MamaT

  • Hi Steph and Eliza,

    Thank you for your kind words and concern. And frankly tonight, I am not okay. I have been working with the palliative care nurses and lung cancer team in a view to get him to agree to go into hospice- and yesterday he did. And today they have said it will be within the week. I am not sure why, but all of a sudden I feel like I'm bursting inside. I am wanting to cry and scream and panic and and and. I work in nursing and know very well what they do there- so can't explain this visceral reaction I am having. I will call you all when I can get time to. I'm always here at home or on a time line to get home so it's hard to find a time to talk. I want to be strong and upbeat for him. That's important. 

    Not sure what else to say- 

    Thanks for listening

    T.