Marriage troubles
Breast Cancer,  Family

The Toll a Breast Cancer Diagnosis Takes on a Marriage

Marriage is hard enough. Going through a breast cancer diagnosis is inherently stressful and it touches every facet of your life including your relationship with your spouse. Your health, your view of self, and your relationships are all deeply affected. A breast cancer diagnosis can put a huge strain on a marriage.

Imagine it – a life partner, a teammate, suddenly stricken with an illness as demanding as breast cancer. From diagnosis to treatment to recovery, the journey is long and strenuous. Most partners aren’t medically equipped to deal with this situation, leading to confusion, frustration, false hopes, and likely, fear. My husband portrayed these feelings vividly as his otherwise healthy wife was all of a sudden afflicted by a life-threatening illness.

At the core of the hardship is a striking role reversal. The spouse, used to seeing you strong and invincible, now has to witness you in pain, struggle, and vulnerability. It is heart-wrenching. They get left feeling helpless, carrying the burden of their own worries alongside a desperate need to provide you emotional support.

There’s always fear lurking. Fear about how the disease will progress, the weight of financial implications, and ultimately, the haunting prospect of losing a loved one. My husband grappled with this immense fear; the thought of me becoming seriously ill, or worse, passing away, was unthinkable. It was a bitter pill for him to swallow, and understandably, he was terrified.

Furthermore, there comes a change in dynamics that can invite discomfort and awkwardness. Typically, spouses may feel at a loss when coping with the physical changes their partner is going through. The fear of causing pain or discomfort, or the idea of seeing their spouse as ‘different’ after the surgery can challenge intimacy. Coming to terms with these transformations asks a lot from a marriage.

Communication during this time becomes incredibly crucial. It can simultaneously be the biggest challenge and the saving grace for a marriage under stress. In my case, taking the words ‘I have cancer’ to my lips and speaking them out to my husband was a daunting task. The shocking revelation was difficult for both of us.

However, it is also the path through which couples can learn to navigate their way. Establishing open dialogue about fears, worries, and expectations becomes vital. Yet, it isn’t always easy. I found my husband to be the hardest person for me to talk to during those trying times.

Whether you are the one diagnosed or a partner trying to support, remember this – communication, love, and empathy serve as armor. In the challenging journey of battling breast cancer, embracing these facets will make the uphill climb a shared experience rather than a lonesome battle.

Resources to support this post: Supporting your partner through a cancer diagnosis Talking to your family about your diagnosis

Ellyn Winters-Robinson is a breast cancer survivor, entrepreneur, author, in-demand speaker, women’s health advocate, professional communicator and a globally recognized health rebel. Ellyn's best-selling book "Flat Please Hold the Shame," is a girlfriend’s companion guide for those on the breast cancer journey. She is also the co-creator of, the world’s first conversational AI companion for those on the breast cancer journey. With Dense Breasts Canada and award-winning photographer Hilary Gauld, Ellyn also co-produced I WANT YOU TO KNOW, a celebrated photo essay showing the diverse faces and stories of 31 individuals on the breast cancer journey. Ellyn’s story and have been featured in People Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, the Globe and Mail, CTV National News and Your Morning, and Fast Company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *