Supporting Your Spouse Living with Cancer

A woman sips her coffee while thinking of ways to support her spouse living with cancer.

Contributed by Nathan McVeigh

According to the National Library of Medicine, the spouse of someone living with cancer holds a very influential role. So much, in fact, a recent study found that a spouse’s positive attitude can help reduce the likelihood of depression in the one who has cancer by as much as 30 percent. This finding is important because it shows that the spouse’s mental health is just as much of a factor in the adjustment process as the one with cancer—if not more so. If you find yourself occupying this role, and want to be a more helpful spouse, you can start with these general guidelines.


Living with Cancer Creates New Adjustments

First of all, you must realize that living with cancer means that new adjustments are inevitable. These effects take place among various roles, responsibilities, future plans, and other components of your marital relationship. Some people, for example, are unaccustomed to fulfilling the household tasks. Others may need to learn how to make major decisions when they didn’t do so before.

These adjustments require special communication between both you and your spouse, and potentially other family members. You can find several online resources about how to talk to your spouse about cancer for the topics you both need to address.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can better support the one you love.


How to Support Your Spouse Living with Cancer

Be Specific

Rather than asking your spouse what you can do for them, give them some concrete options that he or she can eliminate or choose. Sometimes they won’t know what they need until they hear it offered. Even if it’s a feeling that you would label a “want,” it’s still a need to them. Here are some specific ideas:

    1. If you don’t normally cook, try to prepare a meal. (Otherwise, arrange a schedule of meal deliveries).
    2. If you have young children, offer to take them somewhere so your spouse can have time alone.
    3. Offer to do some research on their unanswered questions about cancer. CancerCare and American Cancer Society are good places to start.
    4. If the person agrees, plan a party when treatment is finished or on anniversary dates. Always check with the person with cancer before making party plans, including showing them the list of those to be invited.


Be Sensible

Much of what helps a person living with cancer is making sure that whatever normally would get done, gets done.

Make flexible plans for your daily to-do lists. Be humorous and fun when you can be, and not when it’s inappropriate. Allow for times of sadness just as much as you allow time for joy. Follow through on your commitments.

Continue to grow and nurture your relationship the way any healthy marriage does. Ask about each other’s interests, hobbies, life goals and dreams. Go for a walk together. Go to the movies or the kids’ softball games as much is physically possible.

In other words, treat one another the way you would if the cancer wasn’t there.


Be Supported

The Lotsa Helping Hands blog has discussed how support plays a powerful role in a variety of situations. Whether it’s a friend helping a friend or a community watching out for a community, there are plenty of cancer support resources to make sure you and your spouse never feel alone.



Living with cancer can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. As the profound loved one in your spouse’s life, you have an amazing opportunity to inspire others to live in spite of difficulty. By living the ordinary life amidst the chaos, the two of you can live an extraordinary life—no matter its length.