The practicalities of work and home life

Cancer may cause changes in both your roles. This could change the balance of your relationship. It’s important to keep talking to each other about your feelings and what matters to you.

Many couples find it helps to work and plan together as a team. Try to find ways you can help each other, so both of you feel cared for. Make a list of things you need help with, then think about what support you can get from other people. Family and close friends often want to help. They may be able to help you with some everyday jobs you no longer have time for.

You and your partner may find it helpful to go to hospital appointments together. If you are lesbian, gay or bisexual, you may be unsure about coming out to the cancer team. But having your relationship acknowledged can mean you both feel more supported.

It is also important to make time for you as a couple. Do things together that you both enjoy. This helps to balance out the impact of the cancer.

Changes in your role

After a cancer diagnosis, how you behave together as a couple may change. There may be changes in the roles each of you has in the relationship.

This can include how you divide up housework, financial and caring roles. If you have children, you will also be thinking about how this will affect them and how to deal with this.

These changes can be challenging for both of you. And it may change the balance of your relationship. It’s important to talk to each other about how you feel and what matters to you.

If you have cancer

During cancer treatment, you may need to take time off work. And you may not be able to do as much at home. Your social life may be affected too.

Doing things we are good at or familiar with makes us feel useful and positive about ourselves. If you’re not able to do these things for a time, it can affect your confidence. You may worry about losing control or losing your place in the family.

You may find it hard to accept support. Or you may feel frustrated or guilty about not being able to do more. You might push yourself to do more even though you don’t feel up to it.

If your partner has cancer

You may feel helpless or unsure about how to comfort your partner. You may be unsure about how you will manage with caring responsibilities.

There may be changes you need to make at work and at home. Juggling new roles and extra demands on your time can be tiring. You may struggle sometimes, especially if your own needs are not being met.

These are normal reactions. You are going through your own experience of the cancer even though it is not you who has been diagnosed. It is important to make time to look after yourself as well as your partner.

You will have a lot to cope with. It may help to draw up a list of priorities. Try not to become defined by your caring role. Be aware that it’s alright to ask for help for yourself as well as for your partner.

Supporting each other

Many couples find it helps to work together as a team. Together you can plan what tasks need to take priority and what help you both may need. Try to find ways you can help each other so that both of you feel cared for.

It’s important to think about what support you can get from other people. Family and close friends often want to help. They may be able to help you with some everyday jobs you no longer have time for. There are more ideas below about getting support from your friends and family.

If you have cancer

Let your partner know how they can support you. They may want to do more but they may be unsure how to help. There may be things that are a priority for you to keep control over. Tell them if there are things you would enjoy doing, either alone or together.

Let them know:

  • what you feel able to do
  • what you would like to do
  • how they can help you.

You can use one of the tools on the Think about your life website to give your partner a summary of what is important to you. This could be anything from keeping up with a hobby to what you like to eat or drink. You can also use the tool to write down how your partner can support you. This way your partner will know what support you find helpful.

You can tell your partner if there are things you want to help with. But agree how you let your partner know if you are having a bad day and don’t feel able to do certain things.

Remember to tell your partner that you appreciate their efforts to help. This will let them know you understand it’s a difficult time for them too.

If your partner has cancer

Try to be yourself and live as normally as possible. Behaving differently can make your partner feel more aware of their condition.

It can help to ask your partner what support they would like and find useful. This will let you focus your help where it is most wanted and needed. It can also help you avoid misunderstandings.

Let your partner know that although you are there to help, they are still in control. Make a point of asking whether they need you to do something. Let them take as much responsibility as they are able to for their own care, family issues, finances and other decisions.

Making time for you as a couple

Sharing activities that you both enjoy is one way of maintaining your closeness as a couple. Many people prioritise the things they think they should do, such as household chores. Because of this, they may not have the energy to do things that they enjoy. But doing things you enjoy is just as important. It helps to balance out the impact of the cancer.

Make time to do things together that are not about the cancer. You may want to:

  • share common interests
  • go for a meal
  • watch a film
  • do things together as a family
  • take a holiday.

This can remind you what you like about each other and what brought you together as a couple.

My husband cooked me a delicious dinner and ran me a bath to soak some aches away. Those wedding vows were more than mere words!


Making practical decisions

After a cancer diagnosis, there may be lots of things you need to think about as a couple. These may include making decisions about:

When you are making decisions, try to listen to each other’s opinions with an open mind.

This tool can help you and your partner think about the decisions you need to make.

You can also use one of the tools on the Think about your life website to help you think about the decisions you need to make and who you want to be involved.

My husband put work on hold and he was with me, every minute of every day. We cried together and found solutions for everything – together.


Making treatment decisions

If you have cancer

You may want to involve your partner in any treatment decisions you need to make. Talking things over with your partner can help them understand your thoughts and feelings. But the final decision is yours.

Finding out about cancer and treatments

The best source of information is your cancer team. They can give you information that fits your situation.

Many hospitals have information centres. These provide face-to-face information as well as free booklets and leaflets. You can also find cancer information online. Not all information online is accurate. We have a list of some reliable cancer information websites.

You may want to know as much as possible about the cancer and treatment. Or you may only want to know just enough to make decisions about your immediate treatment and how to cope with it. Some people choose not to know very much. They ask their doctors to tell them what needs to be done.

There isn’t one right or wrong answer to how much information you need. It is about what is right for you. This may change at different times during your treatment. You have the right to decide how much you know and when. Let your care team know what you prefer. Your partner and others should respect your choices.

You and your partner may have different feelings about how much information is needed. This is quite common. It can be useful to talk together about how you can manage this.

Doctors and nurses can’t give your partner any information about your diagnosis or treatment without your permission. But you can tell the doctor you are happy for treatment information to be shared with your partner. The doctor can then record this in your case notes. You don’t have to be married or in a civil partnership to do this.

Your partner may want information so they can support you better and to help them cope. Going to appointments with you is a good way for your partner to know what is happening.

Your partner can:

  • help you to remember what your cancer doctor said
  • talk things over with you when you are making decisions
  • be prepared for possible treatment side effects you may have
  • share information with family and friends (with your permission).

If you are lesbian, gay or bisexual

Sometimes people find that their doctor or nurse assumes that they are heterosexual. You may choose to let your doctor or nurse know about your sexuality. This may make it easier if your partner comes to appointments with you. Having your relationship acknowledged can mean you both feel more supported.

If your partner has cancer

Your information needs may be different from your partner’s. It’s best to let your partner find out information at their own pace and respect their choices. If you go to hospital appointments with your partner, talk to them about how much you can be involved. They may be happy for you to ask the doctor questions but it’s best to check in advance.

You might find it useful to read our cancer information. We have information about all aspects of cancer.

If you disagree

Sometimes couples don’t agree about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. If this happens, you may find it useful to talk to the cancer doctor or specialist nurse together.

This will help both of you to be sure you understand all the options.

If your partner has cancer, they have the right to make their own choices. Try to see it from their point of view and support their decision. Sometimes this can be difficult. It may help to talk about your feelings with someone who is not involved in your relationship. Your GP or partner’s specialist nurse may be able to arrange for you to see a counsellor to do this.

My partner has been to every appointment with me. He’s got fully involved, especially when I’ve felt too ill to bother. He’s read up on things with me. What he hasn’t done is treat me like I’m incapable.


I am an “out” lesbian woman and have found that my medical staff have taken this fact in their stride without any awkwardness.


Telling other people

If you have cancer

When you first learn that you have cancer, you and your partner may need time to adjust before you tell anyone else. This is natural.

Telling other people can be hard to begin with. But it will also mean that you and your partner can get the extra support you need. If you find it too hard to tell others, you may want to ask your partner or someone else to do this. Let them know what information you are happy for them to share. Also tell them if there is any information you don’t want to share.

It can be tiring to contact every family member or friend after every test result or doctor’s appointment. You may want to ask one person to be responsible for doing this. This may be your partner or someone else you know and trust.

If your partner has cancer

If you need support from family or close friends but your partner is not ready to tell other people about the cancer, it can be difficult to deal with. When to share their diagnosis is your partner’s decision. But you have your own needs. Try talking to your partner about why it would help you to have support from other people. They might agree to you telling a close friend or family member in confidence. Or they might set a date for beginning to tell other people, such as after test results come back.

You can also contact us or join our online community.

Telling children and teenagers

If you have children, you may find it hard to know what to tell them and may be worried about upsetting them. But talking to them about the cancer will help them to understand what is going on. It can also help them feel more prepared for the changes you face as a family and to feel supported.

Whether your children are young or are teenagers, talking about the cancer helps them to cope. It can also help you to carry on with family life, as much as possible, despite the cancer.

We have more information and advice about talking to children and teenagers when an adult has cancer.

Support from family and friends

You don’t have to cope with everything on your own. Think about the kind of help you both might need from your family, friends and neighbours.

Often people want to do something but are unsure how to offer their help. They may be waiting for you to ask. If you seem to be coping with everything, your family and friends may not realise how much you need their help.

Some people may want to help with practical things. Others may be good listeners and let you or your partner talk about your worries. Having other people you can talk to can be good for you and your relationship.

Sometimes offers of help may come from people who can’t offer the support you need. Or from people who you and your partner don’t want help from. It’s okay to turn down offers of help.

Asking for support

Think about the people in your life who can offer you emotional and practical support. To help you do this, you may want to use one of the tools on the Think about your life website.

Try making a list of things that you need help with. For example, it could be:

  • help with shopping
  • taking the children to and from school
  • collecting prescriptions.

You could stick the list to your fridge or note it in your mobile phone.

You could then ask people what they would be able to do. Some people may be able to help regularly for a few hours a week. Others may prefer to help every now and again.

Some family member or friends may avoid you altogether. This can be difficult and hurtful. It may be because they don’t know what to say or do. You could invite them to ask questions. Being open about the cancer with them may help them to overcome their fears.

After treatment

For some people, the end of treatment means they’re not likely to need treatment for that cancer ever again. Others may be having ongoing treatment, such as hormonal therapy, to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. And for some people, treatment is about managing the cancer for as long as possible.

The end of treatment is often a time when both of you can begin to recover. But the speed of recovery may be different for each of you. For people who have had cancer, recovery is often a gradual process. It can take time to regain and rebuild physical and emotional health. Most people who have had cancer will continue to need support during this period.

If your roles changed during cancer treatment, some of these may return to how they were before. Or you may want to do things differently.

You may find you have different priorities than before. Or you may be thinking about positive changes you can make in your lives, such as keeping active or eating healthily.

Over time, you’ll gradually find yourselves getting back into the routine of everyday life. Other things start taking over and cancer becomes less of a focus for both of you.

We have more information about life after cancer treatment.

My husband, my rock, my carer. We celebrated together when I was given the “all-clear”.


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