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“How can I support my partner through depression and anxiety since cancer treatment and its impact on their self-confidence?”

Patient advocate Elvin says...

This aspect of post cancer impact on a sexual relationship can be the trickiest. Commence this journey knowing that you must always check in on your own mental health. You may well need a person (and that might be a professional therapist, psychosexual counsellor, healthcare professional, or friend) to confide in to seek both advice and solace. This is because your partner will very likely be on a turbulent journey where they will struggle to control their emotions. It can result in angry, unpredictable arguments. Please realise your partner will be battling demons and the conversations and/or heated arguments that ensue can be quite random, even startling, in origin.

Knowing this, it is almost easy to be the tower of strength that you will want to be. If you regularly ask how they are, and then actively listen to their response, then they can see, hear and feel you have a vested interest in their explanation. Then the scene can be set for open, candid, and honest communication. The next step in this 4-step ritual you should attempt to build up into a routine, is to encourage action of some form to either raise their spirits, or alternatively maintain a high they might be experiencing. Wherever possible, make that action you have encouraged something you can do and enjoy together. Even if it is just lying in a darkened room, holding hands. Please then ensure to check back in with them to find out how their progress is going. Remember: Ask, Listen, Encourage, Check Back.

Always allow for them feeling – and expressing – negativity. However, always work with them to rise back up so they are motivated again. Work hard on their desire and belief to recover from the despair and anguish that cancer can often have upon sexual relationships. Do everything you can to build up their confidence and self-belief, particularly with any aspect of your sexual relationships.

To ride this part of the journey will probably take you to the limits of your self-control, your empathy, and your desire to continue this sexual relationship. Please stick at it, you can achieve way more than you ever believed possible.

Psychosexual therapist Kate says...

Quite simply one of the best ways to support a partner when they are struggling with their mental health is to listen, allow them to feel heard, and meet them where they are at.

Cancer is a threat to life as we know it, and that can completely rock our trust in the world and life emotionally and psychologically. It can make us feel out of control, and uncertainty is a difficult and uncomfortable place for us to be as humans, and when paired with pain, treatment, and the sheer volume of our lives that cancer takes up.

Try and find ways to help your partner to develop new coping mechanisms – particularly as some of these (intense exercise, for example) may not be available to them at the current time. It may be something small like starting the day with a cup of tea in bed, a 10-minute walk, mindfulness exercise, affirmations, stretching, or finding external support like a group or therapist.

Importantly, how you can support them may change and it’s helpful to hold that in mind. Using questions like, “How can I support you best right now / in this moment / this morning / today?” can be helpful for focusing on the immediate.