You, your partner and the emotional effects of cancer
If you are diagnosed with cancer it is very normal for you and your partner to have many different feelings, but there are ways to manage these emotions that can help.
You and your partner's feelings
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A diagnosis of cancer often means you'll experience a broad range of emotions. These may include shock, anxiety, sadness, relief, guilt, uncertainty, anger and - for some people - depression. You and your partner may have different feelings, or you may feel different things at different times.
You or your partner may feel numb, which is a natural effect of shock, and unable to believe what is happening. You may be anxious about the future, the treatment and how you’re going to cope. You may deny what is happening and just want to carry on as normal. When cancer is diagnosed, it can take away your sense of security and control. Uncertainty can be one of the most difficult things to deal with and can cause tension between you and your partner.
You may find that you feel irritable or angry. Anger can hide other feelings, such as fear or sadness. You may direct your anger at your partner, as you’re close to them. You or your partner may feel resentful of the changes that the cancer has made to your lives.
You may feel guilty about the changes your illness has brought. Your partner may feel guilty about not being able to manage or about feeling resentful and angry, even when they know it’s not anyone’s fault. You may feel guilty about not managing the changes that the diagnosis and treatment has on you and your family.
Some people cope with serious illness by carrying on as if nothing has happened. This may give you some ‘breathing space’ but can also lead to symptoms going untreated if the denial continues.You may find that your partner is denying your illness. They may appear to ignore the fact that you have cancer, perhaps by playing down anxieties and symptoms or deliberately changing the subject.
There may be times when you or your partner wants to be left alone to sort out your thoughts and feelings. It may help to reassure others that although you may not feel like discussing your illness at the moment, you will talk to them about it when you’re ready.
There are many things you can do which will help you to feel better.
Try not to bottle things up. Acknowledge the emotions you’re feeling. Talking through your feelings with your partner can be very helpful. However, sometimes it can be difficult to talk with your partner, as you may both be too upset. In this case you could talk to family or friends, ask your GP to put you in touch with a counsellor or contact a counselling organisation. The hospital where you are being treated may also be able to offer you and your partner counselling or support. You might find our section about talking about you cancer helpful.
Let off steam. Sometimes you may feel as if it’s all getting to be too much for you. You could try thumping a cushion or pillow, playing loud music or even screaming. Having a good cry can also help release emotions. None of these will do anyone any harm, and they may leave you feeling much better.
Write how you feel. Some people find that it helps to write down how they feel. Keeping a journal may be a way of allowing you to express your fears and worries without having to talk them through. Blogs and social networking sites can also be a good way to express your feelings and communicate with people who are going through similar experiences. You can also do this by joining Macmillan’s online community.
Exercise. Regular exercise releases chemicals in the body that can help you feel better. Even just going for a walk each day may help.
Other things which may help include using complementary therapies alongside your cancer treatment (always check first with your doctor), or joining a support group.
If you or your partner find that your feelings and emotions are so overwhelming that they stop you from being able to function in your everyday life, or if you’re becoming depressed, then it may be time to seek professional help. There are different types of professional help and therapy available. These include your GP, counsellors, psychotherapists, group therapy and psychiatrists.
You are both likely to find your own way of dealing with your emotions. It’s important to remember that negative feelings and thoughts often pass, so you’ll likely feel better at some time in the future. Often partners try to protect each other by not being completely open about their fears and concerns. Bringing things into the open by can help you to understand each other and may bring you closer together.