6 Steps to Defining Your New Role When Your Partner Has Cancer

When your partner gets cancer, you take on a new role. Sometimes it happens subtly and over time. They get a diagnosis and as the weeks and months go by while they fight the disease, you gradually take on more tasks, and inside you deal with new thoughts and emotions as a result.  Sometimes it happens overnight. One day they are fine and the next they are in the hospital and you have been thrust into this new role of caregiver, dealing with doctors, medication, treatment instructions and insurance…

Few of us are prepared for this new role of caregiver for our partner. Many of us slip in trying to be everywhere and do everything, while others are simply at a loss and don’t know what to do or what they should be doing. As caregivers, we often end up feeling frustrated, helpless, doubtful, overwhelmed and exhausted. 

Wouldn’t it be great if someone gave you a script? Something that defined this new role and told you how to play it? Life doesn’t usually work that way, giving us the instructions in advance of the new challenge we are about to face. What’s more, there is no “right way” to be a caregiver for your partner. There is no playbook for how this chapter of your life and theirs will go. 

6 Steps To Create Your New Role

The solution to this problem is to take some time and define the role of caregiver for yourself. When you take a little time and decide from a place of calm what you value and who you want to be, you can define this very important role for yourself. By doing this, you create a guidepost, something to keep you centered and focused when feelings of overwhelm or anxiety threaten to overtake you. 

Here are the 6 steps to creating this new role:

Step 1: Understanding Where You Are

First, take a look at where exactly you and your partner are in the cancer journey. Is it a new diagnosis or is it something you’ve been dealing with for years? Perhaps it’s a recurrence so you already have experience to draw on.

Our roles in life are always changing and evolving.  Understanding and accepting where you are right now is an important first step to defining the role you want. To gain that understanding, take a sheet of paper and answer these questions for yourself:

What am I struggling with most right now?

What do I most need right now?

What do I think my partner needs right now?

What do I think my family needs right now?

Step 2: Accepting What You Can’t Control

The next step in this process is to really understand and accept that there are parts of this journey you can’t control. So many of my clients try to control their partner’s emotions or take away their partner’s pain. They try to argue with reality or get stuck in worry over an uncertain future. It’s normal to try to seek control where we can when our world feels out of control, but as you define your role it’s important to truly understand what you can affect and what you can’t.

You can’t control anything that is outside of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. That means, you can’t control what happens with your partner’s health. You can’t control how they deal with this disease and the treatment. You can’t take away their pain or anger or sadness or fear. You can’t protect your kids and family from this experience. In short, if it is outside of you and your own behavior, it’s not in your control. You need to accept that so that your role is focused on where your power is and now where it isn’t. 

Step 3: Focusing On What You Do Control

On the other hand, there are actually quite a lot of things that you do have control over! You have control over how you think, how you deal with your emotions, and what actions you take. Basically, you have control over YOU and who you show up as each and every day. This is where you need to focus. When you focus on managing yourself and your mind, then will you have the strength and energy to be there for the ones you love.

Step 4: Clarifying Your Values

Values are the principles that give our lives meaning. When we are clear on what we value, it can help us to stay focused on what is important. Our values can shift over time as our life circumstances change. When we are facing the challenge of having a partner with cancer, it’s important to really reflect and re-decide what we want to value in our relationship during this time.  

Think about your relationships. What do you value? Look at this list below and choose 5-7 qualities you want to value in your relationship right now. These need to be your values so don’t be tempted to include things you think you “should” based on some societal expectation. Remember, there is no “right” answer here, just go with your gut. 

acceptancecooperationforgivenessintuitionrecognitionspirituality
adventurecouragefreedomjoyperseverancestability
advocacycreativityfriendshipskindnesspreparednessstrength
authenticitydecisivenessfunknowledgeproactiveteamwork
autonomydedicationhappinessloveresiliencethoughtfulness
balancedependabilitygratitudelearningresourcefulnesstime
appreciationfairnessgrowthpeacereliabilitytrustworthiness
collaborationfairnessgraceloyaltyrespectunderstanding
commitmentfamilyhealthopen-mindednessresponsibilityversatility
communityfinancial stabilityhonestyoptimismsafetywarmth
compassionflexibilityhumororiginalitysecuritywell-being
VALUES LIST

(You can also Google “values list” to get a bigger selection)

Step 5: Brainstorm Your Purpose and Vision

When we decide on a purpose, it can help to guide us on what we focus on and what we let go. Our purpose may shift with our changing situation in life, but often we don’t take the time to really reflect on what we want our purpose to be as our life changes. Many times I see my clients try to be everything and do too much. This only leads to overwhelm and exhaustion.

Sit down with a piece of paper and brainstorm for 5 minutes. What do you want your purpose to be as a caregiver to your partner? What is important to you? Why is it important? Remember, you only have control over your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Here is what my brainstorm included: 

I want to love him. 

I want to connect and be present so I don’t miss this time by being stuck in worry.

I want to believe in his strength and resiliency.

I want to be compassionate and accepting no matter what he do or how he acts.

I want to take care of myself as well. I know this is my job and I’m the best one for it.

I want to remember that he is not his disease.

I want to be supportive. 

I want to be resilient.

I want to listen and seek to understand.

I want to be compassionate of myself and him.

I want to be truthful and honest. I know this will be hard sometimes but I value honesty.

I want to honor my own needs during this time so that I don’t also become a victim of cancer.

BRAINSTORM EXAMPLE
Step 6: Defining Your Role

Now is the time to put it all together. You are going to create a role for yourself that includes your values and a few sentences about who you want to be and why. You may want to make a few versions to see what you like.

  1. Take a look at your values and put them all into one sentence. 
  2. Review your purpose and vision brainstorm. Take a look at what you most want to include. You can combine some things together where it makes sense. Make sure this is about you and what you can control. 

I value acceptance, friendship, growth, honesty, respect, and communication.

As a partner and a caregiver, 

I want to love him. I can’t fix his pain, but I can always offer love.

I want to be a champion of his own inner strength, even if he doesn’t see it himself. 

I want to connect and be present. The present moment is all we ever have. 

I want to be supportive, but also honest. I know this will be hard sometimes.

I want to show compassion for myself and honor my own needs during this time because that is how I show love for myself.

In order to be the person I want to be right now, I know I have to take care of my mental and physical health so I can be resilient. 

EXAMPLE OF A CAREGIVER ROLE

Moving Forward

When you have created your role, type it up and keep it as a reminder. You may want to hang it in several places so you see if often. This is for you and you can add to it or change it at any time. 

Having a role that YOU create will help keep you centered when times are rough.  It will help you remember what you value and why. It will keep you focused on where you have control so you don’t waste your efforts in trying to control what you can’t. Review this often so you can be true to yourself and be there for the ones who need you most.


This is a great exercise to do on your own, however it’s even better when you work with a coach! I help my clients really explore who they want to be as a caregiver and identify what’s getting in the way. That is how we take this work deeper and build resiliency. If you want to learn how else I help my clients address their fears and worries so they can build their resiliency, then schedule a free consultation call by clicking the button below!

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