When breast cancer strikes our loved one, it is not just an individual affair. It becomes a family journey. Husbands may find themselves in the difficult position of supporting their life partner while managing their own distress. While there are no definite rules on how one can best support their spouse, in my work as a medical social worker, I have found there are several commonalities for more successful coping. Here are some tips on how you can support your loved one and yourself through these trying times.

Ways a husband can support his wife with breast cancer

Be present

Nothing says “I’m here for you” more than being there with her for doctor’s appointments. Constance* was upset with having to explain to her husband Daniel what her doctor said. “I’m tired of having to repeat everything. He would know if he came with me. I know he has to work, but he should at least say he’d wish to come. It’s like he doesn’t care about me anymore.”

Accompanying her to her appointments not only tells her that you care, but also gives you the opportunity to be updated on her condition. Discuss possible questions/unresolved concerns both of you may have before the consultation, and create a list of questions to bring to the doctor’s office.

Communicate with each other

Very often, in our attempts to reassure our loved one, we may say well-intentioned words like “Don’t worry, everything will be fine”. However, that may be counterproductive. Constance fumed and clammed up after her husband told her just that. “When Daniel said that, I did not want to say anything anymore. I know he was trying to comfort me, but the words felt so empty. How would he know that it will be fine? Can he cure cancer? I just wanted to talk about my concerns and the way he said it, it just felt very dismissive.”

Husbands may better support their wives by providing a listening ear, starting with a simple “Tell me more” or “What can I do to make things a little better?”

On the emotional front, it can also be very difficult for men to talk about feelings because most men have a limited network that allows them to confide their worst fears. In a counseling session, Daniel finally opened up and shared his deepest fears. “What if she dies? How will I take care of the kids? It scares me… the thought of losing her.”

​Ref: R14