Saturday 14 April 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Partner's Emotions and Anxieties

Our partner's emotions and anxieties, through treatment and beyond

This week our discussion focused on our partners and their fears and worries about us when we are diagnosed with breast cancer. 

There is very little research looking at the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis on the partner of the woman diagnosed. This is both surprising and disappointing, as what little does exist suggests that the effect on a partner's feelings of fear and uncertainty is huge. The availability of tailored specific support for partners is alarmingly absent.

Just as we are each unique in our experience of breast cancer, so our partners will have different ways of coping. We may influence this, depending on how much we choose to involve them in the nitty gritty of our treatment. Our experience may also depend on how strong the relationship is at the time of diagnosis, how openly we are able to communicate and on personality and coping styles of both of us.

Female partners may have additional vulnerability as their fears for their own health may be tangled up with worry for their partner: of course, men do get breast cancer but it isn't as common. Women with primary and secondary breast cancer are members of our group, and for those with a secondary diagnosis, for whom treatment is lifelong, our partner's feelings and fears may be even more complex than for those with a primary diagnosis where an end date for treatment will be a future goal. The period at the end of treatment is a crucial point for women with a primary diagnosis as partners expect and want things to return to 'normal', to be as they were before the diagnosis. This return to how things were isn't going to happen and it can cause rifts in even the strongest of relationships.

Some partnerships don't survive a breast cancer diagnosis. Some women describe partners becoming distant or troubled. Others describe their partner as their rock and experience a deepening of their closeness. All the women who took part in our discussion talked about being concerned for their partners, worrying about the effect of their breast cancer on their partner's well-being. Some try to protect their partners by not sharing everything with them, others want every detail out in the open.

Many women described their partner as the stereotypical male, reluctant or unable to talk about their feelings, and spoke of many of them using hobbies to escape and distract themselves. Many women praised their partners for their ability to just be there for them, with a squeeze of the hand or a hug backing up their matter-of-fact attitude and practical assistance.

Counselling is of course available privately, but this only suits those who like to talk. Perhaps a support group in a pub setting, designed to help men bond and share experiences, to realise that they are not alone, might be helpful. For many women, there is a recognition that our partners may benefit from some kind of support intervention, but we weren't at all sure what that would be.

If you are a woman with a breast cancer diagnosis and you live in the UK, you are welcome to join our private group. Please send a private message to our public centre page 
here and we will get back to you.


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