How to cope when your man has cancer

A cancer diagnosis is daunting
Photo credit: A cancer diagnosis is daunting

What you need to know:

  • This means that cancer should not become the primary fuel driving the relationship.
  • Be sensitive about the comments you make. Don’t say you know how he feels, or that having cancer is not as bad as it is made to look.

Cancer has become one of the biggest medical concerns of the modern world, and not even romantic relationships are spared the devastating effects of a positive cancer diagnosis.

Your man has been diagnosed with cancer, what next?


Few men will outrightly tell you they have been diagnosed with cancer. The majority will prefer to keep the information to themselves for as long as possible. When he finally tells you, how you react could either shutter your relationship or breathe a new life into it.

Do not go into panic mode or rubbish his diagnosis. Dr. Andrew Kneier, the author of Finding Your Way Through Cancer, says that while you might think he is only scared of cancer, his real concern could be feelings of guilt about the consequences the diagnosis has on you. He may also be feeling vulnerable and dependent on you. “Be sensitive about the comments you make. Don’t say you know how he feels, or that having cancer is not as bad as it is made to look. In addition, don’t make comments about the approximate number of years he can still live,” he says.


Dr. Kneier suggests saying something like, ‘I’m with you in what you are feeling, and we will face this together no matter what happens.’ That he has a cancer diagnosis, though, is not a reason for you to shield away from sharing your feelings and fears. Distinguish between taking care of him and caring for him. This means that cancer should not become the primary fuel driving the relationship. “Good communication cuts both ways. Do not feel guilty or afraid to talk to him about how you feel,” says Patrick Musau, a psychologist, “Take charge of your own happiness and maintain a healthy lifestyle as well.”

Pushing you away

It is likely that he may attempt to push you away. He may refuse to accept the diagnosis, and take a break from the relationship or end it altogether. Dr. Anne Moyer, the author of The Psychology of Friendship says that this decision will mostly be informed by his uncertainty over his physical and sexual functionality in the relationship. “He is in the middle of anxieties and fears over what the cancer diagnosis means, as he struggles to accept himself and gain your acceptance,” she says.

Talk about intimacy

A cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment may affect his libido. Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and the depression that may come with having cancer will reduce his capability and desire for sexual activity. He knows that his physical and emotional capacity to satisfy you sexually is limited. Take the lead and open communication on alternative methods of intimacy. “Go out of your way to reassure your partner that your feelings and devotion are not anchored on his sexual performance,” says Dr. Kneier, “Show them that your top priority is for them to get better.”  

Alternatives to intercourse

Although getting intimate might be difficult for your spouse, with the right communication, you can use alternative ways to arouse him and enjoy sexual satisfaction. Talk about alternatives to sexual penetration. “The conversation should be more about feelings than the actual act of sex. While expressing your concerns to each other, you may then skirt around sex and offer your tips for alternative intimacy,” says psychologist Oliver Kibet. He suggests that you nurture small romantic gestures such as holding hands, taking short evening walks together, cuddling, touching and stroking, talking, and staying physically close to each other.

The finances

His finances and career may be affected by how severely cancer impacts his well-being. There is the possibility that he could lose his job in the process. Come up with strategies of how finances and bills will be managed in case of such an eventuality, and how treatment costs will be catered for. “All these factors will have an impact on your well-being, especially if his health deteriorates and finances run thin,” says Kibet, adding that you must prioritise your mental, emotional and physical wellness in order to support him.