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Caring for a Partner With Ovarian Cancer

How to be there for your partner while also taking care of yourself.

Caring for a Partner With Ovarian Cancer

As you walk beside your partner on her ovarian cancer journey, some days—or moments—may feel more difficult than others. And as hard as you feel you’re trying, you might wonder at times if you’re doing all you can to meet your partner’s physical and emotional needs.

Every person’s experience with cancer is different, but here are some tips to guide you in being a supportive presence for your partner, while also taking care of yourself.

Educate yourself about her cancer
One of the best things you can do to support your partner is learn as much as you can about her illness. What type and stage of ovarian cancer does she have? What treatment or treatments is she currently on? Are there certain side effects she might expect to experience? The more you know, the better position you’ll be in to help her through a frustrating day or know when a symptom or side effect could require a call to her healthcare provider. In addition to doing your own research, accompanying your partner to appointments or tests is a great way to stay informed. And your partner will likely appreciate you being there with her.

Keep the lines of communication open
On any given day, your partner may experience a range of emotions. She may feel upset she doesn’t have the energy to keep up with activities she enjoys. Or she may be anxious about an upcoming scan. Let her know you’re here to listen, and that she doesn’t have to hold back: she can feel free to express all types of emotions. She may also appreciate your honesty and openness in expressing your own feelings, as this could help remind her that you’re both in this together. It’s also important to understand there may be times she simply doesn’t want to talk about her cancer.

Explore additional ways to be intimate
Some ovarian cancer treatments can lead to side effects such as vaginal dryness, which could potentially make intercourse uncomfortable for your partner. In addition, your partner’s desire for sex may decrease if she’s not feeling well, or if she’s feeling self-conscious about surgical scars, for example. You can help by reassuring her how much you love and care for her, and by providing a safe space for her to talk about any feelings or frustrations. Together, the two of you can explore other ways to get close, such as cuddling up under a blanket for movie night or giving each other a stress-reducing massage. Your partner may also consider speaking with her healthcare provider about some of these intimacy-related concerns as some treatment options may help.

Help her stay engaged with activities she loves
Your partner may be grieving the life she had before ovarian cancer. She may be frustrated that the time she used to spend doing her favorite activities are now being replaced with appointments. Or she may simply not have the same energy levels she once did. You can be a great support in helping her to maintain aspects of her life that bring her joy; they may just look a little different. Perhaps she’s always been an avid jogger. She might not have the same stamina these days, but this may be an opportunity to explore places the two of you can go walking. Maybe you’ve been meaning to explore the new walking path at your local park. Or perhaps a casual stroll around the neighborhood can become a new after-dinner ritual. And since remaining social is an important part of staying emotionally healthy while living with cancer, bumping into some neighbors could be an extra bonus. Speaking of socializing, be sure to allow space for your partner to keep connections with friends and loved ones.

Accept help from those who care
Cancer-related symptoms, or side effects from treatment (such as fatigue or nausea), can make it difficult to complete errands and household chores. Providing an extra hand—from going grocery shopping to prepping meals to vacuuming to picking up medications—can give your partner space to physically rest or take a mental breather. But over time, this may start to become overwhelming for you as well. Consider enlisting the help of family and friends to help check some of these things off the list. Your loved ones may very well be looking for specific ways to help.

Being kind to yourself
As you continue to be there for your partner, you may consciously or subconsciously be pushing your own needs aside. Recognizing your physical and emotional limits, though, is important. In addition to reaching out to friends or family members for help with daily chores and errands, you may find comfort in sharing your feelings with them, too. You might also consider joining a support group for those whose partners have cancer, or ovarian cancer specifically. This way, you can connect with others in a similar situation. If you’re looking for more one-on-one support, speaking with a mental health professional could be a great option. Remember: resting and recharging your batteries will enable you to be even more present for your partner as you navigate this journey together.

Medically reviewed in December 2020.

Sources:
Standford Medicine. "When Your Spouse Has Cancer."
National Cancer Institute. "Facing Cancer with Your Spouse or Partner."
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. "When a Loved One Has Ovarian Cancer."
Cleveland Clinic healthessentials. "5 Ways You Can Help a Spouse With Cancer."
Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance. "Living Life with Ovarian Cancer."
American Cancer Society. "How Cancer and Cancer Treatment Can Affect Sexuality."
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. "Social & Emotional Impacts of Cancer."
American Cancer Society. "How to Be a Friend to Someone with Cancer."
Cancer.Net. "Support Groups."
American Cancer Society. "Choosing a Cancer Counselor."
SpeakingGrief.org. "Support in, complain out."

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