A cancer diagnosis brings with it plenty of unexpected emotions. While the person receiving the diagnosis will undoubtedly be faced with many overwhelming and complicated feelings as they approach their treatment, it’s usual for the patient’s spouse or partner to also experience extremely similar emotions. When a couple receive this kind of upsetting news, it isn’t just the patient who must cope with the shock. Their partner, as someone who has chosen to share their life, will be forced to confront the possibility of significant changes in their future.

What to Expect from Medical Professionals

When your partner receives their cancer diagnosis, you may find yourself in one of many states of mind. Some people become immediately practical and solution-focused while others can’t process the news and can’t acknowledge their emotions. You may feel numb, overwhelmed, grief-stricken, or a combination of so many other feelings upon hearing that your partner has cancer. 

It’s important to accept your feelings no matter what they are, but you can’t let your emotions get in the way of finding the best path forward for your partner’s health. It’s essential that you listen to the experts and their recommendations. Skilled medical professionals will be experienced at delivering unwanted news and should be able to communicate the next steps clearly, even if you or your partner are in shock.

During the initial diagnosis consultation, you’ll be given details about the nature of your partner’s cancer and suggestions for further tests to learn more about it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions for greater clarity. If it helps, take notes of what the medical professionals say so you and your partner can review them later when you’ve had the chance to digest the initial shock.

Your partner’s treatment team will want to do what’s best for your partner, but you’re still allowed to ask for clarification and more information throughout the process. Second opinions and additional tests can help to gather more detail about your partner’s cancer and develop a treatment plan better suited to their unique needs.

What to Expect Emotionally and Psychologically

No one can predict how they’ll react to finding that their partner has cancer. It can drastically alter your outlook on life and your relationship. Some couples report an even stronger bond as a result of facing this hardship together. Of course, it’s also possible to face relationship difficulties during a cancer diagnosis due to the stress and strain, but being prepared will help you avoid this.

You can’t always anticipate how you’ll react to the news of your partner receiving a cancer diagnosis. However, it’s worthwhile remembering that the best way to cope with challenging emotions is to accept them rather than deny or ignore them. You may feel fear, grief, anger, resistance, despair, or so many other emotions. 

Once the initial shock is over, ongoing anxiety and even depression can follow. Learning how to manage your emotions will set you up for providing support to your partner. You may have completely different reactions to the diagnosis, but you must understand them and work together to make treatment as stress-free as possible.

How to Help a Loved One with Cancer

Helping your partner through their cancer treatment isn’t just important for their well-being but also your own. Taking on a support role during this difficult time can help to focus your mind and provides a distraction from unhelpful anxieties. Putting your partner’s needs first and making decisions based on supporting them can give you a feeling of purpose, even when you’re coping with fear and uncertainty.

Of course, you shouldn’t attempt to take on this role on your own. You can help your partner build a reliable support network around them that they can lean on when times are particularly tough. This could include other family members, friends, and outreach groups specially designed for cancer patients to share their experiences. Talk to your partner’s medical team and cancer consultant about possible support options as they’ll be able to refer you to specific groups or services.

How to Cope

Learning how to cope in the short and long term after your partner receives a cancer diagnosis is essential. Here are two possible avenues for you to explore that are intended to make it easier for you both to face this challenge.

  • Finding the best possible care is an important step toward feeling more confident about the road ahead. The best professionals in the field will be able to provide you with treatment options and suggestions based on rigorous research and experience. Places like Moffitt Cancer Center can reassure patients and their partners with top quality care and accolades from trusted institutions. Knowing that they’re receiving the best care can go a long way toward improving your outlook on their diagnosis. This in turn will help you to cope with the challenging emotions as you go through it together.
  • Another valuable method of coping with the stress of a cancer diagnosis is by attending therapy. For the most thorough and comforting approach, you may find it useful to meet with a couples’ counselor who can help you discuss the unique issues that arise in relationships during a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Attending individual therapy may also be a wise choice, especially if your partner isn’t interested in therapy themselves. Regardless of whether your partner wants to receive their own therapy, it can still be helpful for the person without cancer to talk it through with a professional.

Coping comes in many forms and depends on what you find most effective in your life. What works as a coping method for your partner as they experience the physical and psychological effects of cancer may not necessarily work for you. 


Staying strong for your partner is important as they’re enduring this difficult time, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t also find it challenging. It isn’t weakness to seek support, especially if boosting your confidence and managing your fears will make you better at caring for your partner in their time of need.